New Study Finds Higher Substance Use Rates Among Pregnant Women After Abortion


Findings Show Women With “Unwanted” Pregnancies Aren’t More Likely to Use Drugs or Alcohol

Springfield, IL (July 11, 2005)– A new study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology has found that women with a history of induced abortion are three times more likely to use illegal drugs during a subsequent pregnancy. The study supports a growing body of evidence which suggests that later pregnancies may arouse unresolved grief over prior abortions which women may seek to suppress by increased reliance on drugs and alcohol.

Researchers from Bowling State University, the University of Texas, and the Elliot Institute examined data from a study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The data included 1,020 women who gave birth in one of eight Washington, D.C.-area hospitals during 1992. Analyses of the data revealed that while women who had induced abortions were significantly more likely to engage in substance use during subsequent pregnancies, women who had experienced miscarriages or stillbirths were not.

Previous studies have found that women with a history of abortion are subsequently at increased risk for depression, generalized anxiety disorder, suicidal tendencies and psychiatric hospitalization. At least 21 previous studies have linked abortion with increased rates of subsequent drug and alcohol abuse.

“Most women have deeply conflicted feelings about their past abortions,” said Elliot Institute director Dr. David Reardon, one of the authors of the new study. “Later pregnancies may arouse or aggravate unsettled emotions. Some women will experience increased anxiety, perhaps about the health of their unborn baby. Others are so awed by the life within them that they begin to question their past choice and feel drowned in self-blame.

“Still others may find that they have a lot of unmourned grief related to a past abortion that is interfering with their ability to enjoy and bond with their new baby. Whatever the individual experience, it is clear that pregnant women with a history of abortion are at greater risk of trying to suppress their turbulent emotions by relying on more alcohol, cigarettes, or illegal drugs.”

Substance use during pregnancy is an increasing public health concern. Alcohol and drug use has been linked to numerous problems in infants such as congenital birth defects, low birth weight, developmental and learning problems, and death.

This new study confirms a study recently published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that also revealed higher rates of substance use during later pregnancies among women with a history of induced abortion.

“Medical professionals should be aware of these issues so they can more easily identify which pregnant women are at greater risk of substance use,” Reardon said. “Referral to post-abortion counseling and substance abuse programs may not only help protect the unborn child from exposure to dangerous substances, it may also help the mother to resolve issues related to the traumas of a past abortion.”


Priscilla K. Coleman, David C. Reardon, and Jesse R. Cougle, “Substance use among pregnant women in the context of previous reproductive loss and desire for current pregnancy,” British Journal of Health Psychology (2005), 10:255-268.

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