Last year, David Ferguson's Dunedin longitudinal health study made headlines here in New Zealand when he started publicising the fact that his data appeared to show a correlation between having an abortion and increased risk of subsequent mental illness for the women involved.
As I understand it Ferguson's abortion dataset was too small to actually be statistically significant, and it didn't include the sort of controls you would need to separate cause and effect etc. But this didn't stop the study from generating a whole heap of column inches. If I recall correctly, none of these made mention of research from other countries on the same matter. That seemed kind of strange, surely we weren't the first country on Earth to cover this ground?
As it turns out we weren't. Not by a long way. This interesting piece from the NYT magazine covers the US debate on the 'abortion harms women's mental health.' As it turns out there is little evidence corroborating Ferguson' study.
Academic experts continue to stress that the psychological risks posed by abortion are no greater than the risks of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. A study of 13,000 women, conducted in Britain over 11 years, compared those who chose to end an unwanted pregnancy with those who chose to give birth, controlling for psychological history, age, marital status and education level. In 1995, the researchers reported their results: equivalent rates of psychological disorders among the two groups.
A couple of recent studies do indicate a relationship; however, these appear to contain errors and are open to refutation.
Above and beyond the evidence based debate, there were two random things I wanted to add:
1. In the States it is the anti-abortionists who are so keen to prove the link between abortion and subsequent mental illness. That's predictable, but I wonder whether they ever stop to consider their own potential role in this state of affairs: by stigmatising the process as they do, it seems entirely possible that they contribute to the increased distress of those who go through it.
2. Even if it is eventually shown that abortions can have adverse psychological effects then surely, given that struggling to raise an unwanted child can presumably have similar effects, you'd think that the 'anti-abortion for the sake of women's health' groups would be strongly in favour of contraception, sex-education. etc.
Um. No. No they're not actually. Which says quit a lot about their motives if you ask me.