Abortion and Mental Health: The Fight of Who's Right

New analysis disputes previous study on the links between abortion and mental health issues

(RxWiki News) A new analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey failed to find a link between abortions and women's mental health problems, disconfirming conclusions of a previous analysis of the same data.

When researchers Julia Steinberg of the University of California, San Francisco and Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute did not account for other factors, they found that abortion history was not related to having a mood disorder, but it did correlate to having an anxiety or substance use disorder. However, when prior mental health and violence issues were controlled in the models, Steinberg and Finer found no relation between abortion history and anxiety disorders.

In the prior analysis, researchers led by Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University write, "Abortion was found to be related to an increased risk for a variety of mental health problems (panic attacks, panic disorder, agoraphobia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, major depression with and without hierarchy), and substance abuse disorders after statistical controls instituted for a wide range of personal, situational, and demographic variables."

Steinberg refuted such conclusions in a statement released with her analysis: "We were unable to reproduce the most basic tabulations of Coleman and colleagues. 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."

Finer, commenting further on Coleman's analysis, says, "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. 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 and others have responded to the new study. "I am not the only credentialed scientist," said Coleman, "whose research is indicating that abortion is not without serious mental health risks for many women." Anti-abortion advocate Jeanne Monahan of the Family Research Council contends, "The abortion industry will stop at nothing to advance their agenda, including politicizing science at the expense of women's health."

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Review Date: 
December 15, 2010