Study Links Depression with Abortion

Researchers Call for More Studies on Links Among Depression, Abortion, and Suicide

Women with a history of abortion are at significantly higher risk of experiencing clinical depression compared to women who give birth, according to a nationally representative study of 1,884 women published in the latest issue of the Medical Science Monitor.

Researchers compared data for women with a first pregnancy between 1980 and 1992, and found that, on an average of eight years later, women whose first pregnancies ended in abortion were 65 percent more likely to be at high risk of clinical depression.

“This finding adds to the growing evidence that abortion is linked to elevated rates of psychiatric illness, substance abuse, and suicidal behavior,” said Elliot Institute director David Reardon, Ph.D.

Previous research on depression rates following abortion have been of limited value due to small sample sizes and lack of information on women’s emotional state gathered prior to their pregnancy.

These problems were at least partially resolved by using the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, an ongoing nationwide interview-based study in which participants are annually surveyed about issues such as their employment, education, marital status, and reproductive history.

Reardon said, however, that the NLSY data is still inadequate to measure the true risk of clinical depression following abortion.

“Only 40 percent of the abortions that we would expect to find in a sample this size are reported in the NLSY,” he said. “This means many women who actually had an abortion were misclassified as only having had births, which would dilute the results.”

“The women who conceal their abortions very probably have higher rates of depression than those who more readily reveal their abortion history,” Reardon said. “Given the 60 percent concealment rate in this data set, the fact that we still found significantly higher depression scores among those admitting a history of abortion suggests that the effect must be quite strong.”

A major recommendation of the authors in the study is that more research needs to be done. They note that the major longitudinal study of abortion complications recommended by then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in 1988 has still never been done.

“The only reason we don’t have better answers today is because Koop’s research recommendation was killed in Congress,” Reardon said. “The political battle over abortion has blocked good federally funded research in this area. Unfortunately, it seems like some people are more concerned about protecting the image of abortion than they are about protecting women.”

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Study Citation

Jesse Cougle, David Reardon, Priscilla Coleman. Depression associated with abortion and childbirth: a long-term analysis of the NLSY cohort. Med Sci Monit, 2003; 9(4): CR105-112

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