After evaluating over 150 studies which examine a potential link between abortion and mental health problems, the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion concluded in a draft report released Tuesday that “…there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women.”
Although, according to their press release, the APA researchers did find that “some studies indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion, and some may experience clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety”, they found “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”
Those studies selected for evaluation were chosen for their methodological soundness; this APA press release says the task force noted that “many” published studies “suffered from serious methodological problems”, particularly when a woman undergoes more than one abortion:
“The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy, the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion or deliver that pregnancy,” said Brenda Major, PhD, chair of the task force. “The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain.”
…The report noted that other co-occurring risk factors, including poverty, prior exposure to violence, a history of emotional problems, a history of drug or alcohol use, and prior unwanted births predispose women to experience both unwanted pregnancies and mental health problems after a pregnancy, irrespective of how the pregnancy is resolved. Failures to control for these co-occurring risk factors, the task force noted, may lead to reports of associations between abortion history and mental health problems that are misleading.
I don’t know about you, but the APA task force’s results don’t surprise me, nor do the methodological weaknesses of many of the original studies. As the press release and report both note, “women have abortions for many different reasons and within different personal, social, economic and cultural circumstances, all of which could affect a woman’s mental state following abortion…consequently, global statements about the psychological impact of abortion can be misleading.” In other words, any researcher who wants to prove that the emotional stress of abortion directly causes mental illness in women is going to have a difficult time teasing apart and controlling for all these potential confounds.
Read the full APA report here.