By Donald F. Calbreath, Ph.D
As the Washington state legislature prepares for its next session, we can anticipate pro-abortion forces once again trying to close crisis pregnancy centers. These centers provide a number of valuable services to pregnant women and their partners - pregnancy testing, counseling, health information, and adoption services among others. What they do not provide is abortions. This "lack" is something that greatly offends "pro-choice" supporters (whose only "approved" choice appears to be abortion) (1).
In the last legislative session, Planned Parenthood and its allies strongly supported HB 2837 (and its companion Senate bill 6452) which would have severely limited the activities of crisis pregnancy centers (2). Pro-life opponents said that these centers were providing false information to clients, including misinformation about links between abortion and breast cancer (worth another column at another time) and between abortion and mental health. Planned Parenthood's web site indicates that abortion is a relatively benign procedure for a psychological standpoint (3). They cite research studies that suggest few (if any) mental health issues for women undergoing an abortion. There are a number of problems with this work, including the fact that the most current reference is over five years old. No discussion of current literature is provided, leaving us with a very incomplete and misleading picture of the impact of abortion on mental health.
Some of Planned Parenthood's criticisms are valid. Early studies did not correct for experimental bias. But their studies try to muddy the water by looking at women who have had children and the mental health effects on these individuals. Yes, many women experience depression after birth of a child, especially if they did not want the child to start with. But what does the current research literature say about the direct mental health effects of abortion? The picture is clearly different from what pro-choice advocates tell us.
Without doing an exhaustive survey of the literature, we want to focus on a few key papers that have appeared that represent quality peer-reviewed research on this issue. A 2007 publication (4) concluded that "High rates of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) characterise women who have undergone voluntary pregnancy termination." A report in the British Journal of Psychiatry (5) concluded that "...women who had had abortions had rates of mental disorder that were about 30% higher." A very recent study, which appeared within the last couple of months, also reported adverse effects of abortion (6). The abstract to the article stated "Women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10% of the incidence of mental health problems was shown to be attributable to abortion." It went on to say "Calling into question the conclusions from traditional reviews, the results revealed a moderate to highly increased risk of mental health problems after abortion. Consistent with the tenets of evidence-based medicine, this information should inform the delivery of abortion services."
An often-neglected aspect of the abortion-mental health debate is the impact of abortion on men. A Townhall column last year summarizes several research studies that looked at how abortion affects the men involved in the pregnancy (7). They write "In researching the topic, we found a variety of books, websites and support groups dedicated to male post-abortion trauma, as well as a number of studies on the issue. One study reported that 82 percent of male parents of a recently aborted baby (ranging from two days to 37 months) experienced depression. Another study found that men experienced anxiety, helplessness, guilt, and a dual sense of responsibility and regret during an abortion. An additional study reported that many biological fathers need professional support in dealing with abortion and its impact on relationships."
A very interesting summary of recent medical articles summarizing the adverse emotional effects of abortion can be found at the web site of the Elliott Institute which is "a leader in the field of research, education, and advocacy for women, men, children and families hurt by abortion" (from their web site) (8).
A quick search on Google for post-abortion support groups provided a lengthy list of organizations that are involved in post-abortion counseling and healing of various sorts. We have to ask the question: if abortion does not have an adverse effect on mental health, why do all these groups exist? They are here because there is real pain, real guilt, and real remorse that need healing.
The myth that abortion does not create mental health problems is just that - a myth. The truth is that everyone involved is harmed one way or another by abortion - the unborn child, the mother, and the father. Pro-abortion advocates cannot be allowed to spread misinformation about this serious topic.
4. "Comparison of pain, cortisol levels, and psychological distress in women undergoing surgical termination of pregnancy under local anaesthesia versus intravenous sedation", S. Suliman et al, BMC Psychiatry volume 7, 24, (2007).
5. "Abortion and mental health disorders: evidence from a 30-year longitudinal study", D.M. Fergusson et al., British Journal of Psychiatry, volume 193, pp 444-451 (2008).
6. "Abortion and mental health: quantitative synthesis and analysis of research published 1995-2009", Priscilla K. Coleman, British Journal of Psychiatry volume 199, pp 180-186, (2011).
7. "A Woman's "Choice" That Affects Men: Post-Abortion Trauma", Jerry DeBin and Jeanne Monahan, Townhall, June 20, 2010