Having A Baby Can Hurt Mental Health More Than Having An Abortion

This image was lost some time after publication.
This image was lost some time after publication.

A new study in The New England Journal Of Medicine suggests that abortion is less likely to cause psychiatric issues than having a baby and keeping it. Will this make a difference in the debate?


Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the study was conducted in Denmark and surveyed 365,550 women between 1995 and 2007. The pool was limited to women who hadn't sought psychiatric care before getting pregnant, and the study examined which of the women did afterwards. (The data is thanks to the Danish healthcare system, which has national registries to track these things.) 84,620 of these women had abortions; 280,930 gave birth. "About 7 per 1,000 women got mental health help within a year of giving birth compared with 4 per 1,000 women pre-delivery," according to the AP.

That's despite data showing that the women who were seeking abortions were more likely to be high-risk for depression and anxiety, being low-income and having "above average rates of unintended pregnancies." It makes intuitive sense — though experiences differ, for many women, having an abortion is essentially the end of the event, whereas having a baby is a 24/7 experience, fraught with both physical and emotional stresses.

Interestingly, abortion laws in Denmark are more restrictive — up until 12 weeks unless a committee determines it to be a risk to the health of the mother. In the U.S., these laws vary by state — there's a pdf chart here — but even the most restrictive states draw the line at 20 weeks or viability, though finding a provider is another story.) On the other hand, it's free, included in the public health system. Then again, that vaunted set of family-friendly policies on leave and childcare clearly didn't obviate the mental stresses around having children.

The idea that abortion harms women has become a central facet of the push to limit and eventually ban abortion in the United States. (For a fascinating look at the man who crusaded to get this on the agenda, read this recent, excellent Mother Jones profile.)

So no wonder LifeNews, the anti-choice news service, is already insisting the study is invalid, because it didn't include women who had had psychiatric histories more than nine months before, and because it only measured women's mental health for the year after abortion or childbirth. "There is plenty of evidence suggesting that the negative effects of abortion may not surface for several years. There is also data indicating that women are most likely to experience postpartum psychological problems soon after birth with the benefits of motherhood often manifesting later than the first year wherein many life-style adjustments are necessary." Surely, somewhere, someone has found a link saying that women are wracked with guilt about their decisions and destroying their lives along with those of their unborn children! Of course, some women do regret their decisions about many things. In the annals of science versus making up science in the service of an ideology, I'll pick the New England Journal of Medicine over "plenty of evidence" from the likes of LifeNews.

Abortion Doesn't Increase Mental Health Risk, But Having A Baby Does [AP]
Related: Europe's Abortion Rules [BBC]
New Study Denying Abortion Mental Health Link Contains Flaws [LifeNews]
The Man Who Loved Women Too Much [Mother Jones]


Image via Shutterstock



Wait. You expect me to believe that 9+ months of extra hormones plus the emotional and financial responsibility one has for another living creature could be more damaging to a woman than a surgical procedure? Get out of here, hippies.

Though, I will say, assuming off the bat that women will feel nothing or totally fine after an abortion is as facile as assuming they will wail and gnash their teeth because they have committed an atrocious sin. I don't think it's unreasonable that, even aside from societal dictation, a woman could be upset after an abortion. Maybe she wanted a baby but it just wasn't the right time. Maybe she had already become a bit attached to the pregnancy. As simple as access to abortion should be, emotionally, I don't think it behooves anyone to pretend this is a simple process that naturally makes women feel one way or the other.