Guttmacher Policy Review
Summer 2006 | Volume 9 | Number 3
Abortion and Mental Health: Myths and Realities
By Susan A. Cohen
ost antiabortion activists oppose abortion for moral and religious reasons. In their effort to win broader public support and legitimacy, however, antiabortion leaders frequently assert that abortion is not only wrong, but that it harms women physically and psychologically. Such charges have been made repeatedly for years, but repetition and even acceptance by members of Congress and other high-ranking political officials do not make them true. Likely because the science attesting to the physical safety of the abortion procedure is so clear, abortion foes have long focused on what they allege are its negative mental health consequences. For decades, they have charged that having an abortion causes mental instability and even may lead to suicide, and despite consistent repudiations from the major professional mental health associations, they remain undeterred. For example, the “postabortion traumatic stress syndrome” that they say is widespread is not recognized by either the American Psychological Association (APA) or the American Psychiatric Association. To a considerable degree, antiabortion activists are able to take advantage of the fact that the general public and most policymakers do not know what constitutes “good science” (related article, November 2005, page 1). To defend their positions, these activists often cite studies that have serious methodological flaws or draw inappropriate conclusions from more rigorous studies. Admittedly, the body of sound research in this area is relatively sparse because establishing or conclusively disproving a causal relationship between abortion and subsequent behavior is an
extremely difficult proposition. Still, it is fair to say that neither the weight of the scientific evidence to date nor the observable reality of 33 years of legal abortion in the United States comports with...