Monday, January 28, 2002
Abortion and Depression
A recent report in the British Medical Journal, which takes a new look at existing data on the aftereffects of abortion, reveals at least two previously-overlooked findings: (1) that women who have had an abortion are significantly more likely to suffer from clinical depression than women who carried their unintended pregnancies to term; and (2) that abortion-related depression tends to persist for years after the abortion. “Depression and Unintended Pregnancy in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth: A Cohort Study,” by David C. Reardon, Ph.D., finds that married women who aborted their first unintended pregnancy were 138 percent more likely to be at high risk for depression than similar women who had carried those pregnancies to term. Further, it had been eight years, on average, since these women underwent abortion. Dr. Reardon notes that the results are consistent with other recent studies indicating a four to six times higher risk of suicide and substance abuse for women who have had prior abortions. Dr. Reardon is director of the Elliot Institute, founded in 1988 to conduct research and education on the effects of abortion and to assist men and women suffering the effects of past abortion.
The source of the data is the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). Begun in 1979, it included a survey of 4,463 women, who answered questions in 1992 about depression and the circumstances of past pregnancies. Some 421 of them had had either their first unintended pregnancy or first abortion since 1980; the average length of time since the abortion was eight years.
The survey results did not indicate a significant difference in depression risk rates among unmarried women who had aborted and those who had carried their unintended pregnancies to term. According to Dr. Reardon, this may have more to do with the tendency of unmarried women to underreport abortions. When measured against the expected abortion rate for married and unmarried women, based on national averages, unmarried survey respondents reported only 30 percent of their abortions, while married women reported 74 percent. Whatever the reasons for this vast difference, Dr. Reardon believes that previous analyses of these data have underestimated the extent to which depression is linked to past abortions because they failed to take this underreporting into account. In fact, the same NLSY data were used by feminist psychologist Nancy Russo, a professor at Arizona State University, to prepare a widely disseminated 1992 report on self esteem scores of women. She concluded that abortion has no “substantial and important impact on women’s well-being,” and is actually correlated to high self esteem.
Reardon contends-and has for some time (See “A Study of Deception: Feminist Researcher ‘Proves’ Abortion Increases Self-Esteem,” from 1995)-that among other things this underreporting of abortion renders her conclusions meaningless. He also points out that the very fact that women would want to conceal past abortions indicates that they are ashamed of it, and shame, secrecy and thought suppression are associated with low self esteem. Even social science confirms this assertion, including a study cited by Dr. Reardon that was conducted by a colleague of Russo, Dr. Nancy Adler (Adler, “Sample Attrition in Studies of Psychosocial Sequelae of Abortion: How Great a Problem,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1976, 6(3): 240-259).
Dr. Reardon’s research confirms what he and all those who minister to post-abortive women have known all along: Abortion is not the easy way out of a problem. It is, rather, an attempt to avoid dealing with a problem, and the psychological and spiritual wounds it causes can be profound and persistent.