Unwanted pregnancy doubles women”s risk of mental health problems, but opting for abortion “has no impact”
A third of women with an unwanted pregnancy suffer depression or anxietyHowever this rate remains the same whether they opt for abortion or continue with the pregnancy
Dilemma: A third of women who experience an unwanted pregnancy develop mental health problems at some point
Having an abortion does not increase a woman”s risk of suffering from mental health problems, according to the latest scientific review.
Researchers found unwanted pregnancy doubles the risk of having mental health issues, however this rate then stays the same whether a woman chooses to have an abortion or continue with the pregnancy.
The report, commissioned and published by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, included data on hundreds of thousands of women in 44 previous studies.
Professor Tim Kendall, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said around 12 per cent of the general population suffer depression and anxiety at some point.
But this rises to about a third of women who have an unwanted pregnancy.
Prof Kendall said that having an unwanted pregnancy may cause mental health problems, a woman may already have problems before becoming pregnant, or it could be a combination of the two.
The experts found that women who had a history of mental health problems before having an abortion were more likely to suffer problems after the procedure.
Factors that may potentially increase the risk of mental health issues after an abortion included women being pressurised by a partner to have an abortion, stressful events, or the woman herself having a negative attitude towards abortions.
Prof Kendall said the future focus of research should be on dealing with the impact of unwanted pregnancy rather than on whether abortion itself causes mental health problems.
The team behind today”s report had looked purely at the mental health aspects of abortion, he added.
“There is a separate debate, which is about the ethics and about legal abortion, illegal abortion, the physical consequences, which are not part of our report.
“We are simply saying that with regard to the mental health outcomes, we should now shift our attention to the problems associated with unwanted pregnancy, not abortion.”
However, a spokesman for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said: “Stories written and told bymany women confirm that abortion can be very damaging to their emotional health.
“Also, there are studies with empirical findings of the psychological harms of abortion.”
A three-month consultation was held on today”s findings so interested groups including pro-life charities and members of the public could comment.
Dr Roch Cantwell, a consultant perinatal psychiatrist and chairman of the steering group, said: “Our review shows that abortion is not associated with an increase in mental health problems.
“Women who are carrying an unwanted pregnancy should be reassured that current evidence shows they are no more likely to experience mental health problems if they decide to have an abortion than if they decide to give birth.”
Professor Sir Neil Douglas, chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: “The Academy recognises that this is a complex and controversial area, where there have been many conflicting research findings.
“We welcome this extremely high-quality review and endorse its findings.”
Dr Kate Guthrie, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), added: “Therecommendations highlight the need for service providers to inform women about the range of emotional responses that may be experienced during and following an abortion.
“It is important that all women, and particularly those with a history of previous mental health problems, are offered appropriate support and, if needed, follow-up.”
Public health minister Anne Milton said: “We are pleased to see the conclusions of this important review.
“The findings will be one of the many sources of information that we will use to inform our sexual health document that will be published next year.”