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Abortion and Depression: Is There a Link?

Researchers Challenge View That Abortion Increases Risk of Depression
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 31, 2005 -- New research challenges the idea that having an abortion raises a woman's long-term risk of depression.

Abortion opponents have long argued that women often suffer depression and other mental health problems as a result of having abortions; those on the other side of the debate say there is little clinical evidence to back up the claim.

Much of the research has involved data from an ongoing study of women who were between the ages of 14 and 21 at recruitment in 1979. The findings have differed depending on who was doing the investigating.

Back and Forth Debate

In a 1992 study, Arizona State University researcher Nancy Felipe Russo, PhD, analyzed the study population and concluded that most women suffer no long-term mental health repercussions when they abort an unintended first pregnancy.

A decade later, David C. Reardon, PhD, looked at the data in a different way and concluded that abortion is linked to later depression.

Reardon found that an average of eight years after having an abortion, married women were 138% more likely to be at risk for depression than married women who chose to carry unintended first pregnancies to term. The association was not seen among unmarried women.

At the time, Reardon told WebMD that his research was intended to challenge Russo's earlier findings. Reardon is director of The Elliot Institute, a research group with what he acknowledges to be an anti-abortion agenda.

In the new study, published in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal, Russo and colleague Sarah Schmiege challenge Reardon's challenge of her original research.

Russo tells WebMD that Reardon's work was flawed because it misidentified women who had unwanted pregnancies and excluded teens.

"Younger women tend to have the least support and the fewest financial resources," she says. "All of these things combine to make the consequences of having a child early in life much greater than having a child later on."

The New Analysis

A total of 1,247 women in the ongoing study who aborted or delivered an unwanted first pregnancy between 1970 and 1992 were included in the latest analysis. The women were interviewed over several years.

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