Study: Abortion for Fetal Anomalies Increases Risk of Mental Health Problems


As controversy over the Zika virus rages, a recent study has found that  abortion in cases of diagnosed fetal anomalies poses greater risks to the mental health of mothers than continuing the pregnancy and allowing nature to take its course.

photo-by-IRRI-Images-cc-flickr-300x168“There appears to be a psychological benefit to women to continue the pregnancy following a lethal fetal diagnosis,” the researchers wrote in the paper, which was published in Prenatal Diagnosis.

The study, from researchers at Duke University, examined a “diagnostically homogeneous” group of 158 women and 109 men who lost children to anencephaly, a condition in which parts of the brain and skill fail to develop. Most children with anencephaly die soon after birth, although some have lived longer.

The report found that women who underwent abortion suffered significantly more despair, avoidance and depression compared to women who continued the pregnancy.

The researchers recommended that “the risks and benefits, including psychological effects, of termination and continuation of pregnancy should be discussed in detail with an effort to be as non-directive as possible.”

However, previous studies have found that parents are often not given accurate information about the diagnosis or the risks of abortion. For example, one study found that almost half of all obstetricians admitted that their training on prenatal testing was “barely adequate” or “non-existent.” And a survey of mothers who gave birth to children with Down Syndrome, with the births spanning some 30 years, found that most mothers expressed dissatisfaction with how they were told of the diagnosis. Most also reported being given outdated, limited or negative information that didn’t emphasize any positive aspects of having a child with Down Syndrome.

A 2009 study of women who had late-term abortions following a negative pregnant diagnosis found that they were more likely to experience psychiatric disorders compared to women who give birth prematurely.

The study of 170 German women, published in the “Archives of Women’s Mental Health,” found that 22 percent of women were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder after abortion, compared to 18 percent of women who gave birth to a baby with very low-birth-weight (VLBW) and 6 percent of women who had a healthy full-term pregnancy.

While the three groups of women “did not differ significantly” on psychiatric disorders prior to abortion or delivery, the researchers noted a difference afterwards, with women who had abortions having the highest rates of psychiatric disorders. Further, 16 percent of women who had abortions had psychiatric disorders 14 months later, compared to 7 percent of women with preterm births and none of the women with healthy pregnancies.

The disorders found among women who had abortions included acute stress disorders, eating disorders, affective disorders and anxiety disorders, with depression and anxiety predominating over time. The authors reported that for most women, abortions in the 2nd or 3rd trimester after a negative fetal diagnosis “are major life events” that can cause ongoing problems even months after the event. They called for more resources and better screening to help identify those who might be at risk for problems after abortion and need psychological support.

Learn More
The Impact of Abortion After Prenatal Testing: What the Research Says
Prenatal Testing and Coerced Abortion
Psychiatric Disorders Linked to Abortion for Fetal Anomalies
Women Share Their Stories of Abortion After Prenatal Testing
My Sister Has Down Syndrome, Would Abortion Be Okay?

Resources and Help

5 Things Parents Need to Hear
Encouraging information for parents who have learned their child has Down Syndrome, before or after birth

Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics
Book with stories from women who resisted abortion after being pressured to due to the mother’s disability or a poor prenatal diagnosis

Be Not Afraid
An online outreach to parents who have received a poor or difficult prenatal diagnosis. Provides help parents as they seek as they seek to honor the life of their baby, no matter how frail or how brief.

Isaiah’s Promise
Offers support and information to families who have received a severe or fatal prenatal diagnosis. Includes links to other organizations with helpful information.
Online resource with links to multiple resources, articles and information for families who have received a diagnosis of anencephaly.
Offers personal stories, support and information for families who have received a diagnosis of anencephaly. Help for affected parents, caregivers and friends. (Site is available in multiple languages).

Prenatal Partners for Life
A group of concerned parents (most of whom have or had a special needs child), medical professionals, legal professionals and clergy whose aim is to support, inform and encourage expectant or new parents. They offer support by connecting parents facing an adverse diagnosis with other parents who have had the same diagnosis. They have many resources such as adoption agencies with clients waiting to adopt and love a special needs child should a parent feel they could not care for them.

Pregnancy Help Page

Help After Abortion Page

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