Study: No Link Between Abortion and Depression in Teens


A new study using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health finds no association between abortion and either depression or low self-esteem in teens within a year of terminating a pregnancy or five years later.  The researchers evaluated the outcomes for 289 female respondents who reported at least one pregnancy between 1994–1995 and 1996, of which 69 reported undergoing an induced abortion. The authors stated that “Socioeconomic and demographic characteristics did not substantially modify the relationships between abortion and the outcomes.”

The study, entitled “Do Depression and Low Self-Esteem Follow Abortion Among Adolescents? Evidence from a National Study,” was conducted by Jocelyn T. Warren, a research associate and postdoctoral fellow, and S. Marie Harvey, chair and professor, both of the Department of Public Health, Oregon State University, Corvallis, along with Jillian T. Henderson, assistant professor, University of California, San Francisco, Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health.  It will be published in the December 2010 issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

The context for the study was to examine claims that abortion leads to depression and regret in women. A 2008 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found no evidence that induced abortion causes mental health problems in adult women, but “because of a scarcity of evidence on teens, no conclusions were drawn at that time about the impact on adolescents.” 

Yet notwithstanding the lack of actual data linking abortion with depression, the assumption that the two are linked has been used by the anti-choice movement in the media, in legislatures and in the courts. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 34 states currently require that women receive counseling before an abortion is performed and seven of these states specifically require that women be warned of possible negative psychological consequences resulting from the procedure.

“Paradoxically,” the authors of the new study suggest, “laws mandating that women considering abortion be advised of its psychological risks may jeopardize women’s health by adding unnecessary anxiety and undermining women’s right to informed consent.”

Indeed, so pervasive is the assumption of links between abortion and depression–and so ingrained the notion that women must be protected from their own decisions–that such links were even cited by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision upholding the ban on so-called partial birth abortions.  Justice Kennedy wrote:

“While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort. . . . Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.”

Likewise, similar memes are among the numerous unsupported arguments (such as the medically inaccurate claim of “fetal pain” at 20 weeks) that have been used to support laws further and further restricting women’s rights to determine whether and when to have a child.

In 2010, Nebraska mandated in the Women’s Health Protection Act that providers screen women seeking abortion for “physical, psychological, emotional, demographic or situational” risk factors. Providers who do not comply fully with the law will be liable for damages, including “wrongful death.”

But these assertions remain unfounded and, it is clear, ideologically driven.

Warren, Harvey, and Henderson state that the young women in their study who
had an abortion “were no more likely to become depressed or have low self-esteem within the year of the pregnancy or five years later than were their peers whose pregnancies did not end in abortion.”

Consistent with previous studies of abortion and psychological outcomes, the strongest predictors of depression and low self-esteem in this study were prior depression and prior low self-esteem.  The new study is the first to look at depression and low self-esteem as potential outcomes of abortion among a nationally representative group of teens, and the results are consistent with the findings of the earlier APA report—induced abortion does not cause mental health problems in adolescent women.

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  • reproductivefreedomfighter

    Great article.  I was told by a CPC that if I had an abortion I would have lifelong depression, but what I felt was relief and gratitude, then at 20 years old, and still today at 35. 

  • cc

    So far, I haven’t seen anything about this on crazy Jill’s blog which is still flogging the abortion/breast cancer link – which clearly isn’t linked! She and her crew steadfastly cling to the myth that ALL women who have abortions are physically and psychologically damaged for life. They even go so far as to speculate that all pro-choice women are “post abortive” – i.e. they support choice because they feel guilty about their supposed abortion and are thus in denial. But on this study, I suspect Jill & company will stick their fingers in the ears and say ‘I can’t hear you, nananana.”  Either that or they’ll claim that the study is part of some nafarious Guttenmacher/Planned Parenthood plot!

  • mechashiva

     She and her crew steadfastly cling to the myth that ALL women who have abortions are physically and psychologically damaged for life. They even go so far as to speculate that all pro-choice women are “post abortive” – i.e. they support choice because they feel guilty about their supposed abortion and are thus in denial.

    I first ran into this when I was a patient escort for PP. Some old guy told me that the only reason I was there was because I had an abortion, and I wanted everyone to be as miserable as I was… since I couldn’t imagine anything better, like the joy of being saved. I just asked him if God told him all those things, and he vehemently said that, yes, God always told him the truth.

     

    Guess I’d better start owning up to the guilt from that abortion I don’t remember having. I must just be blocking it out due to the Post-Abortion Stress Syndrom *snerk*.

  • squirrely-girl

    I guess that means I’ve blocked out all of those abortions I never had too. Yay for the lack of critical thinking skills :/

  • arekushieru

    Since I’ve never even been PREGnant, that would be kind of difficult for me to do.  Oo  “Jill?  What’s that hissing sound I hear?”  -_-

  • saltyc

    The “pro-life” side wants there to be profound regret and depression, what else could be the outcome of taking their rhetoric seriously?

    “laws mandating that women considering abortion be advised of its psychological risks may jeopardize women’s health by adding unnecessary anxiety and undermining women’s right to informed consent.”

    And really they don’t want to “protect” women from our own decisions, they want us to reproduce, that is the real goal here. If they cared about women’s mental health and self-esteem, would they broadcast the hideous gore that they do, would they use the charged language they do? Of course not.

    Letting insurance pay for viagra, not paying for contraception, keeping women ignorant about sex, making abortion unavailable, these are all tactics for getting as many babies out as possible because the worst thing for the “pro-life” movement would be for people to only have as many children as they want to have, which could result in a negative population growth which would be bad for the current consumerist economy.

  • robin-marty

    one of the protesters waits to yell at the women once they come out of the clinic after their appointments are over. It was the first time I really understood that no, it’s not about “saving babies” but trying to make women feel as horrible as possible, as if it was their right to “punish” them. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that you protest women AFTER they’ve had the abortion and you can’t change their actions…

  • forced-birth-rape

    And SaltyC, christian men have a pornographic obsession with pregnancy, birth, and women who have a lot of children.
    I know this from the perverted things the christian men I grew up with said. They loved hearing how some poor women had ten children, demeaning remarks pursued, of course they never used profanity when they said demeaning things about pregnancy, birth, and women who had a lot of kids so they were good christian men. Nevermind they could and did get aroused by hearing stories of thirteen year olds giving birth, and wanted to know every detail.
    To be fair it even pleased a lot of christian women.

  • beenthere72

    I was depressed and had low self esteem long before I had my abortion.   Luckily, long after, I am none of those things now.