Tuesday, August 19, 2008

APA Finds Abortion Causes No Higher Risk of Mental Health Problems

The American Psychiatric Association announced last week that having an abortion poses no greater risk of mental health problems.

A panel appointed by the group representing psychologists found no credible evidence that having one elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy causes mental health problems for adult women.

"The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy, the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion or deliver that pregnancy," said Brenda Major, a psychologist specializing in stress at the University of California Santa Barbara, who chaired the task force.

"The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain," she said.

The psychologists analyzed hundreds of studies that have been done on the contentious question, including those that have purported to show serious mental health effects of abortion.

Their report, being presented at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in Boston, counters arguments made by anti-abortion groups.

They said women who had mental health problems before becoming pregnant, women who worried about stigma or secrecy or those who had low self-esteem were more likely to develop mental health problems after an abortion.

"Across studies, prior mental health emerged as the strongest predictor of post-abortion mental health. Many of these same factors also predict negative psychological reactions to other types of stressful life events, including childbirth," they wrote in the report, published on the Internet here.
For the last few years, anti-choice organizations have pushed the phony idea of a mental illness called "post-abortion syndrome." This is part of an anti-choice strategy to recenter their position as being out of a concern for women -- though they never really explain how making decisions for women is particularly helpful to them. Pro-choice organizations, on the other hand, have known for some time that abortion does not cause mental illness, and f0r some women can even be a positive experience that breeds personal growth or a sense of control over their lives.

Of course, every woman is different. Some women can and do experience negative emotions after an abortion, including sadness, confliction or mourning. This is not, however, the same as a mental health problem -- rather, it is a normal reaction to the stress of a major life decision. Further, the very small number of women who do develop mental health problems after an abortion are believed by the APA to have already been at risk for mental health problems prior to the abortion, and were likely to develop the same issues after a different type of stressful event.

Unsurprisingly, if you look around anti-choice sites you will see claims of bias in the APA study. However, the truth is that the APA is the main association of psychiatrists in the U.S. and in fact the most influential and widely respected psychiatric organization in the world. This study is only telling us things we already knew, but it's always nice to see the truth getting out there to the general population.

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