For Immediate Release
May 6, 2003
Study Links Depression with Abortion
Researchers Call for More Studies on Emotional Risks
Springfield, Ill. — Women with a history of abortion
are at significantly higher risk of experiencing clinical depression compared
to women who give birth, according to a nationally representative study
of 1,884 women published in the latest issue of Medical Science Monitor.
Researchers compared data for women from the National
Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) who experienced their first pregnancy
between 1980 and 1992. They found that, on an average of eight years later,
women whose first pregnancies ended in abortion were 65 percent more likely
to be at high risk of clinical depression after controlling for age, race,
marital status, history of divorce, income, number of years of formal education,
and a pre-pregnancy measure of psychological state.
"This finding contributes to the growing number
of studies showing that abortion is linked to elevated rates of psychiatric
illness, substance abuse, and suicidal behavior," said Dr. David Reardon,
head of the Elliot Institute in Springfield, Illinois, and one of the study's
Previous research on depression rates following
abortion have been of limited value due to small sample sizes and lack
of information gathered prior to their pregnancies on women's emotional
state, Reardon said. These problems were at least partially resolved by
using the NLSY, an ongoing nationwide interview-based study conducted by
the Center for Human Resource Research at Ohio State University and funded
by the U.S. Department of Labor. Participants in the study, who were between
the ages of 14 and 21 at the time the study began in 1979, are surveyed
annually about issues such as their employment, education, marital status,
and reproductive history.
Reardon conceded, however, that the NLSY data
is still inadequate to measure the true risk of clinical depression following
abortion. "Only 40 percent of the abortions that we would expect
to find among a sample this size are reported in the NLSY," he said. "This
means many women who actually had an abortion were misclassified as only
having had births, which would tend to dilute the results."
Another way concealment of past abortions would
effect the findings, Reardon said, is that studies have shown that the
women who are most likely to conceal their abortions or experience shame
are also the ones most likely to have depression. "The women who
conceal their abortions very probably have higher rates of depression
than those who more readily reveal their abortion history," he said. "Given
the 60 percent concealment rate in this data set, the fact that we still
found significantly higher depression scores among those admitting a history
of abortion suggests that the effect must be quite strong."
A major recommendation of the study's authors
is that more research needs to be done. They note that in 1988 Surgeon
General C. Everett Koop recommended a major longitudinal study to thoroughly
examine the issue of abortion complications, but the study was never been
"Women deserve better information," Reardon said.
"Dr. Koop properly identified the way in which data could be gathered to
examine all interactions between women's physical and mental health, including
not only reactions to abortion, but also to study PMS, postpartum depression,
menopause, and more. The only reason we don't have better answers
to all these issues today is because Koop's recommendation was killed in
Reardon believes the political battle over abortion
has blocked good federally funded research in this area. "Unfortunately,"
he says, "some people are more concerned about protecting the public image
of abortion than they are about protecting women."
Cougle JR, Reardon DC, Coleman PK. "Depression
associated with abortion and childbirth: a long-term analysis of the NLSY
Sci Monit, 2003; 9(4): CR105-112
The full study is available free
This release is posted at www.afterabortion\news.
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