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Women's Health

Abortion Linked to Depression

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Jan. 17, 2002 -- Does having an abortion lead to long-term emotional scars? Previous studies have found that for most women the answer is no, but new findings from an anti-abortion research group suggest otherwise.

Researchers from the Springfield, Ill.-based Elliot Institute concluded that depression in a group of married women was linked to aborting an unintended pregnancy years earlier. The association between abortion and depression was not seen for unmarried women, however.

David C. Reardon, PhD, is director of The Elliot Institute, a privately-funded research center with what he acknowledges is an anti-abortion agenda. Reardon has written several books on the long-term emotional effects of abortion, and the research group has published several studies on the subject. One such study found a higher incidence of substance abuse among women who had an abortion.

Reardon says his latest research, published in the Jan. 19 issue of the British Medical Journal, is an effort to refute a widely reported 1992 study from Arizona State University. In that study researcher Nancy Felipe Russo, PhD, concluded that most women suffer no long-term mental health repercussions from abortion. The Elliot Institute researchers used the same group of study subjects that Russo used, but they measured depression scores instead of long-term self-esteem.

They found that an average of eight years after having an abortion, married women were 138% more likely to be at high risk of clinical depression than were married women who carried unintended first pregnancies to term. Among all women surveyed, however, depression scores correlated with total family income, education level, age at first pregnancy, and other variables.

"The affects of abortion can be persistent over long periods of time," Reardon tells WebMD. "Most people would not find it startling that abortion is associated with depression in the short term. But these findings may surprise those with strong pro-choice political positions who are adamant about denying that there are any long-term effects on mental health."

Russo tells WebMD that she is surprised Reardon is attacking her 1992 research. In a press release published Friday, he called her study "methodologically weak" and "a poor basis on which to build the claim that abortion has no measurable effect on women's well-being."

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