Call for mental health support after abortion


A PROMINENT Irish psychiatrist has called for specific treatments to be offered to women who have had an abortion, following the publication of new research linking termination of pregnancy with the subsequent development of mental health problems.

The New Zealand study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that women who had abortions had rates of mental health problems that were almost 30 per cent higher than in the other women in the study. The conditions most associated with abortion included anxiety disorders and substance use disorders.

However, the research carried out by Prof David Ferguson and colleagues from the University of Otago, New Zealand, concluded the overall effects of abortion on mental health were small.

The researchers estimated that exposure to abortion accounted for 1.5-5.5 per cent of the overall rate of mental disorder in the group of women studied.

Prof Patricia Casey, professor of adult psychiatry at University College Dublin and the Mater Hospital, Dublin, in an invited commentary published alongside the research, said there was an obligation on abortion providers to inform women of the new findings.

Prof Casey has in the past opposed abortion.

"There are immediate medico-legal implications flowing from the finding; namely, the prospect of litigation against abortion providers for failing to provide women with information of a possible causal link between abortion and subsequent health problems," she said.

Prof Casey concluded: "The focus should be on identifying vulnerable groups of women and providing optimum treatment for them, whatever the aetiology of their mental health problems."

But a second commentary from Dr Margaret Oates, consultant perinatal psychiatrist with Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust (who is pro-choice), and her colleagues Dr Ian Jones and Dr Roch Cantwell argued against the need for mandatory counselling and informed consent for all women seeking abortion. "Informed consent for surgery does not include a warning of psychological hazard. We do not believe that the evidence is strong enough to support mandating such advice for abortion," they said.

The study assessed some 500 women aged 15-30 who were born in Christchurch, South Island. Overall, 284 women reported a total of 686 pregnancies. These included 153 abortions in 117 women and 138 pregnancy losses, including miscarriage and stillbirths.

At each interview, the women were assessed for depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug dependence. None of the pregnancy outcomes other than abortion was linked with a significantly increased risk of mental health problems.

Commenting on his findings, Prof Ferguson said: "Specifically, the results do not support strong pro-life positions that claim that abortion has large and devastating effects on the mental health of women. Neither do the results support any strong pro-choice position that abortion is without any mental health effects."