May 13, 2003
Risk of Psychiatric Hospitalization Rises After Abortion
New Study Riles Abortion Defenders
Springfield, Ill. — Is abortion a benign experience
for women? Or can it cause or contribute to emotional problems, even
The American Psychological Association (APA),
which has consistently lobbied in favor of abortion rights, has frequently
insisted that abortion is a benign experience that predominately brings
relief to most women. Some APA members, such as Nancy Adler and Brenda
Major of the University of California, have even charged that those who
say abortion can cause emotional problems are guilty of misleading the
public. To support this view, Adler has argued that abortion is so
common that if it did cause emotional problems, the nation's psychiatric
wards would be filled with the evidence.
Now, a new study published in the latest
issue of the Canadian
Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) shows that such evidence does
exist. A review of the medical records of 56,741 California medicaid patients
revealed that women who had abortions were 2.6 times more likely than delivering
women to be hospitalized for psychiatric treatment in the first 90 days
following abortion or delivery.
Depressive psychosis was the most common
diagnosis. Rates of psychiatric treatment remained significantly higher
for at least four years. A previously published
study by the same authors revealed that women who had abortions were
also more likely to require subsequent outpatient
mental health care.
According to the CMAJ study's lead author,
David Reardon, Ph.D., a common complaint among participants in post-abortion
recovery programs is that when they raised the issue of their past abortions
while seeking mental health care, their therapists dismissed abortion as
"Therapists who fixate on the ‘abortion is benign'
theory, either out of ignorance or allegiance to defensive political views
on abortion, are doing a great disservice to women who need understanding
and support," said Reardon, who recently co-authored a book, Forbidden
Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion. "This study, based on objective
medical records, validates the claims of tens of thousands of women in
post-abortion recovery programs."
In an effort to offer an opposing view, CMAJ editors
invited psychologist Brenda Major, an advocate for the view that abortion
is therapeutic, to submit a commentary on the study appearing in the same
issue of the CMAJ. In her commentary, Major charged that the
study's implication that abortion can cause psychiatric problems is misleading.
She argued other factors, such as marital status or prior psychological
problems, may offer better explanations for the fact that psychiatric problems
are more common among aborting women.
Reardon concedes that these other factors may
also contribute to psychiatric illness but insists that abortion can both
aggravate pre-existing problems and trigger new ones. He dismissed Major's
commentary as a product of "the abortion distortion effect."
Reardon particularly questioned Major's choice
to omit from her comments any mention her own study
recently published in the Archives of General
Psychiatry. That study revealed that 1.4 percent of the women
interviewed two years after their abortions suffered from post-traumatic
stress disorder solely attributable to their abortions. Even such
a low percentage, projected on the 1.3 million American women undergoing
abortions each year, would result in 18,200 cases of PTSD each year, or
over a half million cases since 1973. Including other types of negative
reactions, Reardon said, could easily increase the overall complication
rate by twenty times or more.
In an interview with a Canadian reporter, Major
called Reardon's comparison "outrageous" and "muddy." In response
to these comments Reardon noted that the method used was exactly that previously
employed by one of Major's co-authors, Dr. Henry David, who did a similar
analysis in 1981 of data from Denmark, only restricted to just 90 days.
David found the same trend toward higher admission rates among women who
"Major has never criticized David's work." Reardon
said. "But perhaps this is because he is a vocal advocate for abortion
and a colleague who has collaborated with her on dismissing the importance
of his own findings. The simple fact is that David did not follow up on
his own work. Now, Major and others are criticizing us for simply doing
what they should have done when they first spotted evidence of elevated
psychiatric admissions after an abortion over twenty years ago. Major's
outrage is a reflection of her politics. I don't think she will ever acknowledge
any research findings that run counter to her bias."
This is the seventh study Reardon and his colleagues
have published on abortion complications in the last eighteen months. Among
the other studies, also published in major peer
reviewed journals, one revealed that among women with an unintended first
pregnancy, those who had abortions were at significantly higher risk of
depression an average of eight years later compared to similar women
who carried their unintended first pregnancies to term. Higher rates of
and substance abuse among women who
had abortions were also revealed in the other studies published by the
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Reardon DC, Cougle JR, Rue VM, Shuping MW, Coleman
PK, Ney PG.Psychiatric
admissions of low income women following abortion and childbirth.
Can Med Assoc J. CMAJ 2003; 168(10):1253-7.
The full study is available free
online at the CMAJ
This release is posted at www.afterabortion\news.
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