Abortion exposes women to higher risk of depression
By Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent
WOMEN who have abortions are risking depression and other mental illness and should be told of the dangers, a group of leading doctors says today.
In a letter to The Times, 15 senior obstetricians and psychiatrists say that new evidence has uncovered a clear link between abortion and mental illness in women with no previous history of psychological problems.
Women who have had abortions have twice the level of psychological problems and three times the level of depression as women who have given birth or never been pregnant, they say.
Their letter, which comes on the anniversary of the legislation of abortion 29 years ago, says that the medical profession can no longer “play down” the links between depression and abortion and that the risk to mental heath must be weighed up in the decisions to approve abortions on ground of a risk to the mother.
Since abortion was legalised in 1967 more than six million abortions have been performed in Britain, 95 per cent on the grounds of physical or mental health of the mother or existing children.
“We suggest the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and Royal College of Psychiatrists revise their guidance and that future abortion notifications clearly distinguish between physical and mental health grounds for abortion,” the letter says.
The evidence cited by the doctors was published this year and came after a lengthy study that was conducted in New Zealand.
Although it has been long established that women with a history of mental illness are at greater risk of further instability following an abortion, the New Zealand study established for the first time that abortion could trigger depression and other illnesses in women with no mental problems in the past.
The research prompted the American Psychology Association to withdraw an official statement which denied a link between abortion and psychological harm.
However the letter was challenged yesterday by Abortion Rights who said that the doctors were exaggerating the risks. “On average one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, it is thus a clear exaggeration to say that all these women suffer long-term psychological trauma,” said Anne Quesney, the director.
“The consensus of all authoritative psychiatric and medical opinion is that, for the large majority of women, the effects on psychological health of having an abortion are neither major nor long-lasting. Most women report feeling a sense of relief. They suggest that the most stressful thing is coming to the decision to terminate, particularly when the circumstances are difficult. Some women may experience feelings of sadness and loss; this is not a mental illness, it is just a normal reaction to what can be a negative event.” The anniversary of the legalisation of abortion has also triggered a new row over the time limits for abortion which stand at 24 weeks. The campaign for change in the law will be advanced next week by Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, who presents a bill to Parliament calling for the limit to be reduced to 21 weeks, and for a cooling off period after a woman has decided to have an abortion.
The pro-choice lobby has responded saying there is already an unacceptably long delay in getting abortions on the NHS forcing many women to pay to go privately.
The pro choice lobby seem to be doing themselves no favours by denying the results of this research. A choice surely means an informed choice, which means being aware of any risks that may arise from the procedure. Meanwhile I am all for lowering the upper time limit (see link).