Abortion Linked to Later Anxiety Problems, New Study Shows
Women Giving Birth to Unintended Pregnancies Do Better
Springfield, IL (Nov 4, 2004) — Women who abort unintended pregnancies are more likely to experience subsequent problems with anxiety compared to women who deliver their unintended pregnancies, according to a study published in the latest edition of Journal of Anxiety Disorders.
Using data collected from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), researchers examined a nationally representative sample of 10,847 women aged 15-34 who had experienced an unintended first pregnancy and had no prior history of anxiety. After controlling for race and age at the time of the survey, researchers found that compared to women who carried the unintended pregnancy to term, women who aborted were 30 percent more likely to subsequently report all the symptoms associated with a diagnosis for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
If the excess cases found in the study are projected onto the entire population of women having abortions, there may be as many as 40,000 or more GAD cases per year attributable to abortion. Since many women participating in the NSFG do not report their past abortions, the results may underestimate the full impact of abortion reactions.
“Our study suggests that clinicians treating women with anxiety problems may find it useful to inquire about their clients’ reproductive histories,” said Jesse Cougle, M.Sc., the lead author of the study. “Women struggling with unresolved issues related to a past abortion may benefit significantly from counseling that addresses this problem.”
Abortion advocates have frequently asserted that carrying an unintended pregnancy to term is more emotionally harmful to women than abortion. But this new study linking abortion to general anxiety disorder comes on the heels of nearly a dozen other studies published in the last three years linking abortion to increased risk of depression, substance abuse, suicidal behavior, and death from heart disease. Because of the increasing concern about the mental health effects of abortion on women, legislation has been introduced in Congress to expand funding for treatment programs and research in this area.
In their examination of data, Cougle and his colleagues considered women as being at risk for GAD if they reported feeling worried and anxious for a period of at least six months about things that were not serious or were unlikely to happen. They also had to experience other symptoms required for a diagnosis of GAD, such as irritability, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, a pounding or racing heart, or feelings of unreality.
Researchers excluded women who reported having experienced a period of prolonged anxiety prior to or at the same time as their first pregnancy. Women who aborted a pregnancy after delivering their first pregnancy were also excluded from the study.
There were also greater differences in rates of generalized anxiety between aborting and delivering women who were under the age of 20 than there were for women who were older at the time of the pregnancy. This may be explained, researchers said, by other studies that show that older women are more likely to conceal past abortions in surveys and that abortion is a more stressful experience for younger women.
“Some studies have found that younger women are more likely to experience emotional distress following abortion than older women,” Cougle said. “Younger women may feel less control over their decision and may abort under pressure from their parents and partner.”
Jesse R. Cougle, David C. Reardon, Priscilla K. Coleman. “Generalized Anxiety Following Unintended Pregnancies Resolved Through Childbirth and Abortion: A Cohort Study of the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth,” Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 2005, 19:137-142.