Abortion and mental health

Abortion and mental health

By Liz Lockhart

Newspapers, magazines and the television are awash with reports on a proposed amendment to a Health Bill which requires women seeking abortion to see an independent counsellor first. 

Mental Healthy started the week with our own report on this subject.  You can read it here.  The Pulse reported this week that GP’s are critical of any change in counselling procedures calling them ‘unnecessary’.  They report that GP leaders have criticised changes to abortion counselling rules that they say will create 'unnecessary barriers' and will make the procedure more traumatic for women.

But hot on the tail of this news comes the findings of new study which reveals that having an abortion increases the risk of developing severe mental health problems by 81%.

Published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the study found that women who have undergone a termination are ‘significantly’ more likely to suffer mental issues, than those who have not.

Professor Priscilla Coleman from Bowling Green State University in Ohio carried out the research which examines 22 studies from 1995 to 2009.  These studies involved 877,000 women, of which almost 164,000 had had an abortion.

Coleman found that while the overall increased risk to mental health problems was 81%, the results ‘indicate that the level of increased risk associated with abortion varies from 34% to 230% depending on the nature of the outcome.  Whether women abused drugs, alcohol or suffered depression, and so on’.

The study examined mental health problems such as drug use, suicidal thoughts, alcohol abuse, depression and anxiety. 

Coleman said ‘Overall, the results revealed that women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10% of the incidence of mental health problems as shown to be directly attributable to abortion.’

We look forward to reporting the findings of a current study by The Royal College of Psychiatrists who are carrying out a systematic review of the impact of abortion on women’s mental health.  Their results will be published sometime this autumn.

I go back to the comments in the Pulse where GP leaders say that the change in post-abortion counselling will make the procedure more traumatic for women.  I ask the question 'how can unbiased independent counselling and advice provided by people who do not have a vested interest in a woman's ultimate decision be more traumatic?' 

Whilst we appreciate that this new counselling procedure must not prolong a woman's wait for termination, we suggest that whilst changes are being mooted then consideration should also be given to providing unbiased post-termination counselling in addition to pre-termination counselling.

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