Abortion vs. Unwanted Pregnancy: The Impact on Mental Health
Two years ago, there were poignant anecdotes published on the pages of Shakesville and Her Bad Mother, looking at the emotional consequences of abortion and adoption from a deeply personal perspective. These are the type of anecdotes that help personalize the important case for choice. As much as stories help, however, we all know that “the plural of anecdote is not data.” But now, there is data demonstrating that abortion does not have a greater impact on a woman’s mental health than carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term and giving birth.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges published the largest, most comprehensive and systematic review of the mental health impact of abortion. According to the Steering Group, which conducted the review:
Having an unwanted pregnancy is associated with an increased mental health problems. However, the rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy are the same, whether they have an abortion or give birth.
Previous mental health issues, women’s attitudes towards abortion, pressure to have an abortion, or other stressful life events can all contribute to increased post-abortion mental health issues. Overall, the conclusion of the of the Steering Group is that all women who have an unwanted pregnancy should be supported and should be reassured that the choice is theirs to make.
In her anonymous post on Shakesville, the woman who told her story wrote:
I have given a baby up for adoption, and I have had an abortion, and while anecdotes are not evidence, I can assert that abortions may or may not cause depression – it certainly did not in me, apart from briefly mourning the path not taken – but adoption? That is an entirely different matter. I don’t doubt that there are women who were fine after adoption, and there is emphatically nothing wrong with that or with them; but I want to point out that if we’re going to have a seemingly neverending discussion about the sorrow and remorse caused by abortion, then it is about goddamn time that we hear from birth mothers too. Believe me when I say that of the two choices, it was adoption that nearly destroyed me – and it never ends.
She also wrote about the lack of support for women who do go through the adoption process. There is plenty of “help” to get them to make the decision to carry their baby to term and give it up for adoption, but not nearly enough support for the emotional fallout from doing so.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges study found that while 11 to 12 percent of women suffer from mental health issues, around one third of women with an unwanted pregnancy suffer from mental health problems. This data certainly furthers the case for better education on how to avoid unwanted pregnancies, as well as for easy access to emergency contraception.
Image credit: dno1967b on flickr