Research Links Abortion and Substance Abuse in Pregnant Women


Women with a prior history of abortion are twice as likely to use alcohol, five times more likely to use illicit drugs, and ten times more likely to use marijuana during the first pregnancy they carry to term compared to other women delivering their first pregnancies, according to a study published in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The researchers conclude that higher rates of substance use during the subsequent pregnancies would place the newborn children of these women at higher risk of congenital defects, low birth weight, and death. This is the seventeenth study linking abortion to elevated rates of substance abuse, but the first study based on a nationally representative sample to show higher rates of drug and alcohol use during subsequent pregnancies.

Many post-abortive women use drugs and alcohol to cope with unresolved emotional issues such as grief, guilt and loss. Since such issues may become more intense during a subsequent wanted pregnancy, women may have more difficulty abstaining from drugs and alcohol even though they know it puts their pregnancies at risk. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a major public health concern.

The researchers recommend that obstetricians screen pregnant women for a prior history of abortion and substance abuse in order to make better recommendations for counseling.

“Counseling that addresses only the surface problems of the woman’s substance abuse may fail to give her the help she needs to truly overcome this problem,” said Elliot Institute director David Reardon, one of the study’s authors.

This is the fifth study documenting emotional problems linked to abortion to be published this year. The Elliot Institute has participated in all five. The other studies have linked abortion to higher rates of long term depression, increased need for mental health treatments, higher death rates (including death from suicide), and poor bonding with and parenting of later children. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology is one of the most respected and influential medical journals in the US.


PK Coleman, DC Reardon, VM Rue and JR Cougle, “History of induced abortion in relation to substance use during pregnancies carried to term,” American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 187(5), Dec. 2002.

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