Abortion does not increase chance of mental health problems, say experts

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HAVING an abortion does not increase a woman’s risk of suffering mental health problems, according to the world’s biggest review of the issue.

It makes no difference to a woman’s mental health whether she chooses to have an abortion or continue with the pregnancy, researchers found.

Women with unwanted pregnancy do have a higher incidence of mental health issues than those in the general population, but the rates of problems are the same whether a woman opts for a termination or goes on to give birth, says the report commissioned and published by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.

The report, using data on hundreds of thousands of women in 44 previous studies, was carried out by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Professor Tim Kendall, director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, said 11 to 12 per cent of the general population suffer depression and anxiety. However, this rises to about a third of women who have an unwanted pregnancy.

Prof Kendall said that having an unwanted pregnancy may cause mental health problems, a woman may already have problems before becoming pregnant, or it could be a combination of the two.

The experts found that women who had a history of mental health problems before having an abortion were more likely to suffer problems after the procedure.

Factors that may potentially increase the risk of mental health issues after an abortion included women being pressurised by a partner to have an abortion, stressful events, or the woman herself having a negative attitude towards abortions.

A three-month consultation is now being held on the findings so groups including pro-life charities and the public can comment.

Dr Roch Cantwell, a consultant perinatal psychiatrist and chairman of the steering group, said: “Women carrying an unwanted pregnancy should be reassured that current evidence shows they are no more likely to experience mental health problems if they decide to have an abortion than if they decide to give birth.”

Professor Sir Neil Douglas, chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, added: ““We welcome this extremely high-quality review and endorse its findings.”