Key Factors in Understanding
Women’s Mental Health After Abortion
Martha Shuping, M.D.
Dr. Shuping presented this article at a United Nations workshop in March 2011, and at the June 2011 meeting of the Association for Interdisciplinary Research on Values and Social Change.
In 1973, as a 19-year-old undergraduate student, I worked as a volunteer at a clinic that helped women to access abortion services. I received one evening of training in which I was taught that abortion was a safe, simple procedure, and there were no side effects.
I was incorrectly taught that the developing baby was nothing more than a clump of cells. After that, I was considered to be a qualified pregnancy counselor, and I helped some women to obtain abortions.
Thirty-eight years later, many abortion counselors are still giving women that same misinformation. But today I know that many women have adverse psychological reactions following abortion.
I have known more than one thousand post-abortive women who have been unhappy about their abortions. Much of my professional life has been spent in helping women to deal with the emotional impact of abortion.
The published literature is clear that abortion puts women at increased risk for mental health problems. For one example, a 2008 study using data from the National Comorbidity Survey (a large nationally representative data set) showed that abortion was a risk factor for eight different psychiatric conditions, “above and beyond the effects of the 22 control variables.”1,2 A bibliography prepared in 2008 by Dr. Priscilla Coleman identified more than 50 strong studies in peer reviewed journals that “provide clear evidence of causation,”3 while a newer bibliography lists more than 100 such studies published from 1981-2010.4
In September of 2011, a meta-analysis was published, the “largest quantitative estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion available in the world literature.” This showed that “women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10 percent of the incidence of mental health problems was shown to be attributable to abortion.”5
Rather than addressing the question of whether or not some women have mental health problems after abortion, which is already clearly established, we will examine here some of the reasons that women are having mental health problems after abortion.
The stories of real women (not their real names) may help to make clear why some women are having problems, contrary to what everyone expected many years ago.
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