A new study on the effects of abortion on women’s health finds, among other things, that there is no scientific evidence that abortion protects or improves women’s mental health. The study thus questions in part the current German legislation on abortion.
For more than 12 months, the interdisciplinary team of researchers examined 13 internationally frequently cited studies on abortion and women’s health for their validity and messages.
They concluded that a substantial proportion of methodologically well-done international studies agree that abortion is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems or exacerbates preexisting problems. For example, abortion is statistically associated with an increased risk of suicide and suicide attempts, addiction, alcohol and drug abuse, depression, and anxiety. Multiple abortions increase the risk.
Nevertheless, the study notes that, due to methodological problems, there is no scientifically valid method to reliably exclude or prove a direct causal link between an abortion and later psychological consequences:
“One would have to assign, as for example in a drug trial, a group of women with completely equal preconditions and randomly assigned them either to an ‘abortion group’ or to a ‘birth group’ after an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy, without the woman or the physician knowing who was assigned to which group. In this case, the design of this randomized controlled double-blind study is completely unusable and must also be rejected on ethical grounds,” explains ethicist and co-author of the study Susanne Kummer.
However, no scientific evidence could be provided for the hypothesis that abortion has a positive effect on a woman’s psyche. The study also found that abortion has no therapeutic effect in reducing psychological risks compared to women who give birth after an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.
This in part calls into question the medical indication for abortion in Germany and Austria, among other countries. In these countries, abortion has been exempt from punishment for almost 50 years now in order to avert a supposed “serious harm to the mental health of the pregnant woman.” But if “abortion has been shown to have no positive effect on a woman’s psyche and thus offers no protective factor for mental health–something that reputable studies agree on–the scientific basis for this legal construct is lacking,” the researchers conclude.
Instead, they call for better education of women about adoption options and protection of special at-risk groups, such as women with pre-existing mental health conditions or women who have had multiple abortions.
The study will be published in “IMABE Studies” series of the Institute of Medical Anthropology and Bioethics (IMABE) in spring 2023.
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