Yet another study says abortion doesn’t pose a mental health risk

abortion is foreverAnti-choice activists, I hope you’re sitting down. It turns out that, contrary to your wishful thinking, having an abortion does not increase the chances a woman* will suffer mental health issues.

Of course, some of you anti-choicers won’t be convinced by this evidence because it was done by scientists, which you’ll find sketchy. But just so you know, a study, commissioned by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, part of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK and funded by the England’s Department of Health, reviewed 44 studies from 1990-2011 on the relationship between abortion and mental health and concluded,

“The best current evidence suggests that it makes no difference to a woman’s mental health whether she chooses to have an abortion or to continue with the pregnancy.”

The study does say that women who have unwanted pregnancies have an increased risk of depression and anxiety, but choosing an abortion does not make them more at risk than having the baby. In other words the correlation is between mental stress and an unwanted pregnancy in itself, not between mental stress and abortion.

It’s also important to note, as the study does, that while women with unwanted pregnancies  suffer from anxiety and depression at greater rates (1 of 3)  than the general female population (11-12%), this correlation may not always be causal.  The unwanted pregnancy may be responsible, the psychological symptoms may precede the unwanted pregnancy, or there may a combination of the two factors. Women with a history of mental illness or who are pressured by their partners into getting an abortion have higher rates of mental health problems following a termination. So the takeaway is that abortions don’t pose a mental health risk, but mental illness and lack of, well, choice (or feeling like you have a choice) do.

If anti-choicers actually cared about the mental health of women– which I’m not sure they do, since their interest in life seems to begin at conception but end at actual childbirth — what they (and all of us) should be concerned with is making sure women have access to contraception, education, sex-ed, healthcare and are empowered to make their own decisions, not bullied or pressured by someone else. Unsurprisingly, a spokesperson for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, Anthony Ozimic, rejected the study, insisting that “Women experienced feelings such as shame, guilt, grief and regret after an abortion.”

Of course to the extent that women feel shame, guilt, grief, and regret after an abortion, the anti choice movement is causing the very symptoms it claims it wants to protect women from.

* Jos and Lori have pointed out the limitations of viewing abortion as a women’s only issue. I agree but since the study did use the male/female binary, I couldn’t include sections of the population (trans, two-spirit ) who they didn’t.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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  • nazza

    I try to be the best male ally I can be, but I admit I have no idea what direct emotions having an abortion invokes or does not invoke. Men who claim that they do, like the one referenced in the post, are suspect with me. I think if I contributed to an abortion I know I’d have mixed feelings, but I’m never going to be pregnant, either.

    Basically, all I think I can plausibly do in this situation is listen. If a friend came to me seeking council, I’d try to do the best I could. But in this scenario, I think it’s much more likely that she’d speak to another woman first.

    • pictish

      For me, it was relief.

  • Courtney

    It’s really frustrating though because for every study that proves abortion does not cause mental health problems, anti-choicers claim to have another “scientific study” that does just the opposite. That’s why they think it’s okay to shame women going into planned parenthoods – “because no matter how bad we make them feel, getting an abortion will make them feel worse.”

    • Veronica

      I don’t trust anti-choice “scientific studies” because I know there’s an agenda of controlling other people’s lives (likely with religious roots) involved.

  • toongrrl

    STill feel it isn’t going to convince any anti-choicers otherwise

  • Katrina

    But I highly suggest reading The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler, a “deeply moving and myth-shattering work…the untold history of the million and a half women who surrendered children for adoption due to enormous family and social pressure in the decades before Roe v. Wade.”

    We all need to better understand the implications for birth mothers who decide to carry to term and give up their babies for adoption. It can be a lifelong struggle with depression and regret, along with other complex emotional problems (especially if, as with the examples in Fessler’s book, the women don’t have true choice in the matter). I would argue that yes, abortion does not cause more serious mental health problems than carrying to term would, but let’s recognize that birth resulting in adoption has deeper implications.

    I hear pro-life peers sometimes suggest that the woman should carry to term and then if she feels like she can’t or doesn’t want to take care of the baby she can give it to a deserving family. But it’s not so simple.

    From the book:

    “It’s hard to convince others about the depth of it. You know, a few years after I was married I became pregnant and had an abortion. It was not a wonderful experience, but every time I hear stories or articles or essays about the recurring trauma of abortion, I want to say, ‘You don’t have a clue.’ I’ve experienced both and I’d have an abortion any day of the week before I would have another adoption – or lose a kid in the woods, which is basically what it is. You know your child is out there somewhere, you just dn’t know where…”(Fessler 53)