Family Matters

Having an Abortion Doesn’t Lead to Depression

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Having an abortion has got to be an excruciating decision, no matter where you fall on the abortion-rights spectrum, but a new study shows it does not increase the likelihood of mental-health problems.Contrary to what some anti-abortion activists have claimed, women do not fall victim to depression or post-traumatic stress disorder after having an abortion, concludes a study by Danish researchers published in the New England Journal of Medicine. (More on Time.comA Gene to Explain Depression)

“A woman should know that her risk of having a psychiatric episode is not increased” after an abortion, Trine Munk-Olsen of Aarhus University, the study’s lead author, told the Associated Press.

The researchers relied on a national registry that tracks the medical histories of citizens, including the 365,550 teens and women who had an abortion or delivered their first child between 1995 and 2007. In the 12 years under consideration, 84,620 had an abortion and more than three times that — 280,930 women — had a baby.

Using the registry statistics, researchers were able to analyze the rate of mental-health visits before and after abortion and delivery. The women in the study did not have a history of psychiatric problems that merited a hospital stay. (More on Time.comWhy are Anorexics More Likely to Have Unplanned Pregnancies and Abortions?)

Interestingly, women who decided on abortion had more psychiatric disorders than women who gave birth; data shows they tend to come from lower-income households and have higher rates of accidental pregnancy.

Yet their rate of mental-health visits budged only slightly post-abortion: 1% had sought psychiatric help nine months before the abortion while 1.5% did so afterwards.

The research did not consider the psychological impact on women who terminate a pregnancy relatively late in their pregnancies, due to fetal anomalies, for example. It looked only at first-trimester abortions since abortion is illegal in Denmark after 12 weeks.

What did raise the rate of psychiatric problems? Babies. Within a year after first-time mothers gave birth, seven per 1,000 women were treated for mental-health issues, in comparison to four per 1,000 before baby. (More on Time.comHaving Kids, Especially Young Ones, Ramps Up Depression)

That should hardly come as a surprise since the most common complication of pregnancy is post-partum depression. An unrelated study of British parents published in September in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that more than one-third of mothers and about one-fifth of fathers appear to have battled depression sometime between becoming parents and their children’s 12th birthday, with the most episodes occurring in the first year after birth.

“These high rates of depression in the postpartum period are not surprising owing to the potential stress associated with the birth of a baby, e.g., poor parental sleep, the demands made on parents and the change in their responsibilities, and the pressure this could place on the couple’s relationship,” wrote the authors.

The results of the Danish study — which were partially supported by grants from a foundation that backs abortion rights — corroborate a 2008 review by the American Psychological Association that found no link between mental-health problems and abortion.