Study disputes link between abortion and mental health problems
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A new analysis disputes the contention that women who have abortions are more prone to mental health problems.
Julia Steinberg of the University of California, San Francisco, and Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute examined data collected by the National Comorbidity Survey. In 2009, Priscilla Coleman of Bowling State University and colleagues published an analysis of the same data that concluded that compared with women who had never had an abortion, women who reported having had an abortion were at increased risk for anxiety, mood disorders and substance abuse.
But the new analysis, published online by the journal Social Science & Medicine, failed to find the same link, even without taking into account other key factors such as a history of mental health problems.
"We were unable to reproduce the most basic tabulations of Coleman and colleagues," Steinberg said in a statement released with the paper. "Moreover, their findings were logically inconsistent with other published research -- for example, they found higher rates of depression in the last month than other studies found during respondents' entire lifetimes. This suggests that the results were substantially inflated."
When Steinberg and Finer examined other factors, such as preexisting mental health disorders and sexual or physical violence before the abortion, they found that women who had had multiple abortions were more likely to have those risk factors before the abortion compared with women who had had one or no abortions. Once the researchers took that into consideration, they found no significant relationship between abortion history and substance abuse or mood and anxiety disorders, they reported.
"Antiabortion activists have relied on questionable science in their efforts to push inclusion of the concept of 'post-abortion syndrome' in both clinical practice and law," Finer said. "Our inability to replicate the findings of the Coleman study makes it clear that research claiming to find relationships between abortion and poor mental health indicators should be subjected to close scrutiny."
Coleman disputed the contention the new analysis contradicted her findings, saying the researchers used different methods. In particular, she said her analysis looked at whether women who had abortions experienced psychological problems over a longer period of time.
"I am not the only credentialed scientists whose research is indicating that abortion is not without serious mental health risks for many women," she wrote in an email.
Advocates opposed to abortion similarly dismissed the new analysis.
"The abortion industry will stop at nothing to advance their agenday, including politicizing science at the expense of women's health," said Jeanne Monahan of the Family Research Council in an email.
| December 13, 2010; 10:05 AM ET
Categories: Abortion, Alcohol and Drugs, Mental Health
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