Women who have abortions are at risk of severe mental health problems, according to a study.
The research found that those who undergo abortion face nearly double the risk of mental health difficulties compared with others and that one in ten of all mental health problems was a result of abortion.
The findings are certain to cause major controversy at a time when the pro- and anti-abortion lobbies are already in the midst of a vicious row playing out in Parliament.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries, backed by Labour’s Frank Field, has put down an amendment to a Health Bill which would require women seeking abortion to first see an independent counsellor.
Miss Dorries said in yesterday’s Daily Mail that she is subjected to ‘constant vilification and near-daily death threats’ over her stance on abortion.
At present organisations which provide abortion offer counselling, but critics say the advice can be biased and influenced by the fact that many make a profit out of the terminations they carry out.
The study comes with the endorsement of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which published the research by American academic Priscilla Coleman in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Professor Coleman has been the frequent target of pro-choice campaigners in the U.S. for her insistence that abortion is linked to poor mental health.
But while critics have doubted her methods, they have failed to damage her academic reputation, and publication in the peer-reviewed British journal is a signal that the psychiatric establishment is now taking seriously the possibility that abortion is a cause of anxiety, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide.
Three years ago research published in the journal first questioned the assumption of abortion campaigners and providers that terminating a pregnancy reduces rather than increases the health risks to a woman.
Professor Coleman’s study was based on an analysis of 22 separate projects which together analysed the experiences of 877,000 women, of whom 163,831 had had an abortion.
It said: ‘Results indicate quite consistently that abortion is associated with moderate to highly increased risks of psychological problems subsequent to the procedure.
‘Overall, the results revealed that women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81 per cent increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10 per cent of the incidence of mental health problems were shown to be directly attributable to abortion.’
The study said that abortion was linked with a 34 per cent greater chance of anxiety disorders, and 37 per cent higher possibility of depression, a more than double risk of alcohol abuse – 110 per cent – a three times greater risk of cannabis use – at 220 per cent – and 155 per cent greater risk of trying to commit suicide.
Professor Coleman added: ‘There are in fact some real risks associated with abortion that should be shared with women as they are counselled prior to an abortion.’
She added that the political heat of the row over abortion means researchers should try to set aside their own beliefs. Her own research was intended ‘to produce an unbiased analysis of the best available evidence addressing abortion as one risk factor among many others that may increase the likelihood of mental health problems.’
The findings were seized on by anti-abortion campaigners. Philippa Taylor, of the Christian Medical Foundation, said: ‘It is imperative that women are made aware of the real risks of developing mental health problems post-abortion.
‘We welcome this rigorous, extensive and most timely research,’ she added.