Claims that terminating an unwanted first pregnancy raises the risk of depression is called into question in a study published online by the British Medical Journal.
In fact, the authors suggest that abortion may be linked to a lower risk of depression through beneficial effects on education, income, and family size.
The study involved 1,247 US women who aborted or delivered an unwanted first pregnancy between 1970 and 1992. The women were interviewed over several years to examine the relation between pregnancy outcome and later depression.
Terminating compared with delivering an unwanted first pregnancy was not directly related to risk of depression. Instead, women who delivered before 1980 had a significantly higher risk of depression than all other groups.
The abortion group also had a significantly higher mean education and income and lower total family size, all of which were associated with a lower risk of depression.
These results cannot be explained by underreporting of abortion, say the authors, because findings did not vary in groups known to vary in underreporting. Furthermore, women with higher depression scores were more willing to provide confidential abortion card information. Despite some study limitations, they conclude that there is no credible evidence that choosing to terminate an unwanted first pregnancy puts women at higher risk of subsequent depression.
They suggest that if the goal is to reduce women's risk for depression, research should focus on how to prevent and ameliorate the effect of unwanted childbearing, particularly for younger women.
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