Officials in Finland Concerned About Increased Risk of Suicide After Abortion; Calls for Action in Australia and the U.S.
Voluntary guidelines for post-abortion mental health evaluations during the month following an abortion have failed to significantly decrease the rate of suicide after abortion in Finland, according to a new study.
Finland adopted the guidelines after a large-scale study of women’s health records, published in 1997, found that the suicide rate among women who had undergone abortions in the prior year was three times higher compared to women in the general population and six times higher compared to women who gave birth.
Mika Gissler of the National Institute for Health and Welfare, who was the lead author of the 1997 study, led a team of researchers who examined health records to see if the suicide rate went down after the new guidelines were published.
They found that the decrease in the suicide rate was not statistically significant.
“Women with a recent induced abortion still have a two-fold suicide risk,” they wrote. “A mandatory check-up may decrease this risk.”
Officials in Australia Also Concerned
The increased risk of suicide following abortion has been recognized in Australia as well. The 2013 Queensland Maternal and Perinatal Quality Council report noted:
Suicide is the leading cause of death in women within 42 days after their pregnancy and between 43 days and 365 days after their pregnancy. There appears to be a significant worldwide risk of maternal suicide following termination of pregnancy and, in fact, a higher risk than that following term delivery.
The potential for depression and other mental health issues at this time needs to be better appreciated. Active follow-up of these women needs to happen. Practitioners referring women for termination of pregnancy or undertaking termination of pregnancy should ensure adequate follow-up for such women, especially if the procedure is undertaken for mental health concerns.
Council chairman Professor Michael Humphrey said that “the number of suicides was a key concern,” according to a report in the Queensland Courier-Mail:
“It’s pretty scary,” Prof. Humphrey said. “But this is not just happening in Queensland or Australia. The incidence of suicide in relation to maternal deaths is also seen very clearly in reports coming out of New Zealand and the UK. It’s a major phenomenon.’’
He said some women had taken their own lives within a year of having an abortion.
“There’s a lot of evidence that a significant proportion of women who have termination of pregnancies do have mental health issues subsequently,’’ Prof. Humphrey said. “Whether they are mental health issues related to the reason why the woman had the termination or whether they’re related to regret afterwards, we don’t know.”
Besides the Finland study, large record-based studies from the United States and Denmark have found that overall death rates were higher among women following abortion compared to those among women who had given birth.
The U.S. study examined Medi-Cal records for more than 173,000 low-income California women who had experienced abortion or childbirth. Linking these records to death certificates, the researchers found that women who had state-funded abortions were 2.6 times more likely to die from suicide compared to women who delivered their babies. Giving birth, on the other hand, was shown to reduce women’s suicide risk compared to the general population.
Abortion Not Beneficial to Women’s Mental Health
Abortion advocates have frequently argued that abortion is necessary to protect women’s mental health, or even beneficial.
But a 2011 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that 10 percent of mental health problems among women, including 35 percent of suicidal behaviors, may be attributable to abortion. These findings were based on the combined results of all studies published between 1995 and 2009 that met strict inclusion criteria. The resulting analysis included 877,181 women from six countries.
Women who aborted were 81 percent more likely to experience mental health problems compared to all other control groups, and 55 percent more likely to have problems compared to women who delivered an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.
Further, a meta-analysis combining the results of eight studies of women who experienced unwanted pregnancies, published in 2013, concluded that “there is no available evidence to suggest that abortion has therapeutic effects in reducing the mental health risks of unwanted or unintended pregnancy.”
Lead author Professor David Fergusson, who has described himself in interviews as a pro-choice atheist, also led the research team in a 2008 study that concluded that women who continued an unwanted or mistimed pregnancy did not experience a significant increase in mental health problems. Further, having an abortion did not reduce their mental health risks.
“In general, there is no evidence in the literature on abortion and mental health that suggests that abortion reduces the mental health risks of unwanted or mistimed pregnancy,” the authors wrote. “Although some studies have concluded that abortion has neutral effects on mental health, no study has reported that exposure to abortion reduces mental health risks.”
The Elliot Institute has called for congressional hearings to investigate the risks of suicide and other mental heath problems after abortion.
Decreased suicide rate after induced abortion, after the Current Care Guidelines in Finland 1987 – 2012. Gissler M, Karalis E, Ulander VM. Scand J Public Health. 2014 Nov 24.
Suicides after pregnancy in Finland, 1987-94: register linkage study. Gissler M, et. al. Br. Medical Journal. 313: 1431. 1996 Dec 7.
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