Having an abortion does not make women more likely to try to kill themselves, a study has found.

Anti-abortionists in the 1990s and 2000s argued to have the procedures banned by stoking fears of ‘postabortion trauma syndrome’.

Although this was effective at the time and lawmakers accepted women might suffer mental health problems after abortions, the claims have since been debunked.

Research has now revealed women who have abortions actually appear more likely to try to kill themselves a year before the abortion than afterwards.

In the study of more than half a million people in Denmark, women who attempted to kill themselves appeared to be more likely to do it before an abortion, rather than after (stock image)

In the study of more than half a million people in Denmark, women who attempted to kill themselves appeared to be more likely to do it before an abortion, rather than after (stock image)

University of Maryland experts studied a total of 523,380 women in Denmark to track possible links between abortion and suicide attempts.

The study looked at data spanning more than 17 years for women aged between 18 and 36, focusing on first-time abortions and failed suicide attempts.

It found that, although women who had abortions were more likely to try to end their lives than those who didn’t, the abortion itself wasn’t to blame.

Instead, pre-existing mental health conditions with which women suffered before getting pregnant were what influenced the likelihood of a suicide attempt.

‘The view that having an abortion leads to suicidal thoughts, plans, or even suicide attempts has been used to inform abortion policies in some regions of the world, particularly laws requiring women seeking the procedure be informed of this view,’ said Dr Julia Steinberg.

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‘The evidence from our study does not support this notion.’

Dr Steinberg and her colleagues found that within a year either side of women having abortions the rates of non-fatal suicide attempts was about the same.

WHAT DID PEOPLE CLAIM ABOUT ‘POSTABORTION TRAUMA SYNDROME’?

Dr Liza Gold, a forensic psychiatrist at Georgetown University, wrote about the claims of a link between abortion and suicide in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2018.

She wrote: ‘In the 1990s and early 2000s, a “postabortion trauma syndrome” with physical and emotional consequences was used to argue against abortion. 

‘This syndrome included unexplained depression, “a hardening of the spirit, thwarted maternal instincts (which may lead to child abuse or neglect later in life), intense feelings of guilt, and thoughts of suicide”. 

‘This argument was successfully used in a number of states to pass legislation requiring that women be informed that they might suffer from this mental affliction if they chose to undergo an abortion.’

Dr Gold explained that science does not back up this suggestion and that it was wrong of scientists and legislators to try and leverage fears of ill mental health for their agenda.

She added: ‘Psychiatry has been misused for social and political purposes in many areas and in many countries. 

‘Fortunately, at least for this particular aspect of the ongoing debates about women’s reproductive health [studies have been produced] that hopefully will deter proponents of both sides of the abortion issue from misusing psychiatry for their ends.’

There were 8.9 attempts per 1,000 people in the year before, and 8.6 attempts in the year after.

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This then reduced to 4.6 per 1,000 over the following the five years, then to 2.2 per 1,000 after that – this 2.2 was about the same as the rate in women who didn’t have abortions.

The numbers suggest that women who had abortions were actually more likely to attempt to kill themselves before having them than after.

The study does not completely unlink the two but gives the scientists enough evidence to suggest it’s not the abortion itself which raises the risk, they said.

Instead it may be the case that women who have a mental health condition likely to lead to them attempting suicide are also more likely to abort a pregnancy.

Dr Jenneke van Ditzhuijzen, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam who was not involved with the research, said: ‘The increased risk of non-fatal suicide attempts in women who have had an abortion might be related to other co-occurring risk factors around the time of the unwanted pregnancy and abortion, such as intimate partner violence, unstable relationships, or other negative life events, for which Steinberg and colleagues could not adjust.

‘This does not mean that having an abortion is an indication that women are going through a difficult time, or that the symptoms of mental disorders are attributable to the abortion.

‘But rather that some women are at an elevated risk of multiple adversities at a certain period in their life, which could include an unwanted pregnancy and abortion.’

The research was published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

It adds further evidence to the argument against the ‘postabortion trauma syndrome’ claims of recent decades.

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In an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, forensic psychiatrist Dr Liza Gold wrote: ‘In the 1990s and early 2000s, a “postabortion trauma syndrome” with physical and emotional consequences was used to argue against abortion.

‘This syndrome included unexplained depression, “a hardening of the spirit, thwarted maternal instincts (which may lead to child abuse or neglect later in life), intense feelings of guilt, and thoughts of suicide”.

‘This argument was successfully used in a number of states to pass legislation requiring that women be informed that they might suffer from this mental affliction if they chose to undergo an abortion.’



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