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Study Shows Link Between Mental Health Problems and Abortion

By Robert B. Bluey Staff Writer

August 16, 2002

( - Women who have abortions have a much higher risk for developing psychiatric problems in the months following the procedure than those who give birth, according to a study in the American Journal for Orthopsychiatry.

Based on a comparison of outpatient mental health claims of 173,000 low-income California women, the authors of the study found that those who had state-funded abortions were 63 percent more likely to require psychiatric care in the 90 days after the operation.

The likelihood of psychiatric problems also remained higher for the abortion group over the next two years, according to the study.

Women who had undergone an abortion submitted 42 percent more mental health claims in the first six months than women who had given birth. There were 30 percent more claims after one year and 16 percent more after two years among women who had had an abortion, the study found.

The difference between the abortion group and the birth group stabilized in the third and fourth years.

"Although we cannot infer a causality with this type of study, it does suggest a reaction to an event," said Dr. Priscilla K. Coleman, a professor at Bowling Green State University, who conducted the study.

Coleman analyzed the mental and physical health claims provided by the state of California. She was joined by Dr. David C. Reardon, director of the non-profit Elliott Institute that funded the study and researches the impact of abortion on society.

The study was more accurate than past research, Coleman said, because she was able to use the claim records, which are more reliable than interviews.

"Women tend to conceal an experience with an abortion," Coleman said. "With this study, we know who had the abortions because it's all claims data."

However, the evidence is not so clear-cut, warned Marjorie Signer, spokeswoman for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She cited research by the American Psychological Association that shows women experience a mixture of emotions after having an abortion and severe negative reactions are rare.

"The idea that having an abortion is going to make you have a nervous breakdown and is going to send you to a psychiatrist is a horrible thing," she said.

Signer also questioned the findings of the study, noting that research can be manipulated.

"A study funded and conducted under the auspices of the government is going to be a lot better than a study funded and conducted by an advocacy organization that is trying to prove a point," she said. "Figures can be read and interpreted in very different ways on all sides of the issue."

Despite the criticism, Wendy Wright, the senior policy director for Concerned Women for America, said past studies support the results reached by Coleman.

"This substantiates numerous other studies that show abortion has deleterious effects on women, not only physical but also emotional and psychological," Wright said.

"This is common especially in cases where women have been raped or are the victims of incest. Often, society will tell a woman she would be better off having an abortion, and yet it's exactly the opposite," she said.

Regardless of its overall accuracy, Coleman said her research does provide women with valuable guidance when considering an abortion.

"I've been apolitical on the issue," Coleman said. "But as a female, I strongly believe women have a right to know what the risks are beforehand and they deserve attention afterward to make sure they're adjusting."



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