Monday, November 17, 2008

Psychological Impact of Abortion

On January 3rd 2006, a team of New Zealand-based researchers from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Christchurch released the findings of a study which looked at the psychological effects of abortion on women. The study followed the lives of 500 New Zealand women from their birth in 1977 until the age of 25, with particular attention paid to the period from age 15 to 25. Each woman’s history of pregnancy, abortion and mental well-being was carefully chronicled, with a strong focus on the woman’s background. The study found that [f]orty-one percent of women had become pregnant on at least one occasion prior to age 25, with 14.6% having an abortion. Those having an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance use disorders [and that the] association persisted after adjustment for confounding factors, ie, family background.(1)

The comprehensive background study took into consideration the mother’s education, changes to the family structure, parental criminal history, childhood sexual and physical abuse, childhood conduct at school and at home, childhood educational achievement, personality, adolescent adjustment and young adult lifestyle issues. It is a true indicator of the effects of abortion that such serious mental health problems as depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and substance abuse developed regardless of the individual’s background.

Further, the study showed the particularly detrimental effects that abortion has on younger women, revealing that those who had had an abortion between the ages of 15 and 18 experienced more than twice the incidence of major depression than did the women who became pregnant during these years but had not aborted. The results were similar for anxiety disorder and suicidal tendencies.

The leader of the New Zealand study is strongly pro-abortion, so one can well believe that he and his fellow-researchers were surprised by their findings. In an interview with ABCs radio program, AM, Professor David Fergusson admitted they were surprised by the results and that whilst they had expected to find a higher incidence of mental health problems in young women who had had abortions, they had thought that this would be a result of the women’s background, rather than in spite of their background, as the study shows.(2)

The study was rejected by four medical journals before it was accepted for publication by the British Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry.(3) This speaks volumes about the nature of the research findings. As Dr Fergusson admits, the study was refused for publication by journals that would ordinarily not hesitate to publish medical research findings. He believes they refused, not for scientific reasons, but because the abortion debate is currently of tremendous public interest, and the findings would further fuel the debate.(4) New Zealand’s Abortion Supervisory Committee apparently also thought the study would stimulate public debate and warned the research team against publishing their findings.(5)

The pro-abortion cause has no doubt suffered somewhat with the appearance of such a comprehensive study and it is evident that they have no serious rebuttal of the research, some abortion proponents claiming in response that women can suffer similar effects of mental illness by actually allowing their babies to be born,(6) while others decry the study’s “limitations”.(7) Dr Christine Roke from the Family Planning Association of New Zealand said she “was surprised by the findings”(8); this perhaps to suggest that she has rarely (if ever) come across a woman who has been adversely affected by abortion. But given FPAs track-record of disassociation with the maternal victims of abortion, this was perhaps a predictable response.

Such information as is contained in the study and the continued public airing of other abortion-related medical studies can only help the pro-life cause. Despite attempts by the pro-abortion lobby to brush aside the research findings, the results of the study remain. And the results threaten the entire abortion construction in New Zealand and Australia, where the fundamental legal basis for access to abortions hinges on the excuse of cause; that is, the protection of the mother’s physical and mental health. It doesn’t bode well for abortion if medical research proves that having the abortion could cause worse mental damage than having the baby. In fact, this research undermines the entire argument that abortion is in a woman’s best interest.

1 Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Ridder EM. Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 2006; 47(1): p.2
2 ABC Radio, AM, Reporter: Tom Iggulden. 3 January, 2006
3 Colson, C. The Elephant in the Living Room: The New Zealand Abortion Study, 24/02/2006. accessed: 7/03/2006.
4 ABC Radio, ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Norris, J. Abortion linked to mental health problems, 4/01/2006. Fairfax New Zealand Limited. accessed: 5/01/2006.
7 Robotham, J. Abortion linked to mental health problems, 3/01/2006, Sydney Morning Herald. accessed: 5/01/2006
8 Norris, ibid.

© Eva Whiteley 2008