No Link Between Abortion and Mental Health Problems? A Second Opinion

By: Dillon Burroughs; ©2011
Dutch researchers claim there is no link between abortion and mental health problems. Is this true? For an in depth look at this topic, see The Aborted Psyche? by Dr. John Weldon.

January 28, 2011

This week, several media outlets noted the new article published in the New England Journal of Medicine[1] stating Dutch researchers had found no link between abortion and mental health problems.[2] This strong statement suggests that women who receive an abortion do not later incur significantly higher levels of depression or related problems related to the procedure.

But is this the whole story? To start, it is noteworthy to highlight the limitations of this highly publicized study. The specific research involved solely observing visits to psychiatric treatment providers in the nine months prior and one year after the women in the Dutch study had an abortion, limited to those with no prior psychiatric treatment. They found, accurately, that no significant difference occurred within a year after first-trimester abortions than in the nine months prior.

Study Conclusions

Based on this study, the conclusion states, “The finding that the incidence rate of psychiatric contact was similar before and after a first-trimester abortion does not support the hypothesis that there is an increased risk of mental disorders after a first-trimester induced abortion.”[3]

Further, it was noted that women in the one-year period following childbirth were the ones with a higher percentage of treatment for depression. The startling conclusion from the study suggested that women who give birth to children suffer worse mental health over the following year than those who abort their children!

Flaws in the Study

The flaws in such a study should be evident. First, a period beyond nine months prior and one year following should be taken into account before making generalized conclusions regarding the mental health impact of abortion procedures upon women. Crisis pregnancy groups and other counselors often note depression, guilt, and related concerns from women who have had an abortion over a decade earlier. Although women who give birth may endure difficult times during pregnancy and in the early development years, long-term studies might reveal an opposite pattern of overall higher satisfaction having chosen life verses regret or depression among women who chose abortion.

While women who give birth to children may endure difficult times during the early period of their child’s development, long-term studies might reveal an opposite pattern of higher satisfaction among these women who chose to give birth and regret or depression among women who chose to abort their children.

A second flaw is the limitation of measuring only visits to mental health providers. Many who have chosen abortion may experience regret, depression, or other related concerns yet never choose to visit a mental health professional for treatment. In fact, it could be argued that those who choose abortion may be more limited in access to professional counseling due to a variety of factors, ranging from income levels to social stigma involved with disclosing such information to a counselor.

Third, the exclusion of those women with prior psychiatric treatment highly limits any solid conclusions based on this study. To be specific, those with prior psychiatric treatment may be much more inclined to receive an abortion than those without. Further, this same group of women with prior psychiatric treatment could experience additional or heightened mental health problems following an abortion. They would certainly be more susceptible to such treatment due to prior experiences. To limit this study to only those with no psychiatric treatment more than nine months prior “stacks the deck” to help create a case that shows how few women treated prior to an abortion procedure also received treatment afterward.

In the end, however, it is not only the statistical information that is important to interpret. What is of concern here to those who value unborn children and a pro-life position is the ease in which modern medical studies often dismiss the consequences of abortion on all involved—mother, child, and other relationships connected to these individuals. For instance, there is a father involved, parents of both the father and mother, and many other friends and family members impacted by the single decision of an abortion.

Most significantly, the unborn child, complete with beating heart and numerous other features in the first trimester, experiences a loss of life. The world misses the contributions of an individual who could be the next president, prime minister, mother, father, teacher, or friend. Even if a mother who chooses abortion may appear unscarred from the experience, her child’s life is ended, and our world experiences the loss of a person whose influence will never be known.

-Dillon Burroughs, staff writer, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute

Notes

  1. From the National Center for Register-Based Research, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark (T.M.-O., T.M.L., C.B.P., P.B.M.); and the Gynecologic Clinic, Juliane Marie Center, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University, Copenhagen (Ø.L.).
  2. Including the Los Angeles Times and Salt Lake City Journal, among others. See http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/world/51131292-68/abortion-mental-health-women.html.csp.
  3. See http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa0905882.

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