Overview: Do abortions trigger later
emotional or physical health problems
Many social and religious conservatives -- both individuals and groups --
sincerely believe that abortions adversely effect a woman's subsequent mental
and physical health. Some observers have linked abortions to infertility, breast
cancer, suicide, promiscuity, clinical depression, premature death, etc. They
are able to cite studies to support their beliefs.
Many medical experts, mental health therapists, abortion providers and
women's advocacy group believe the opposite: that abortions are not linked to
mental and physical health. They also cite studies.
Cynthia L. Cooper of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice wrote:
"The overwhelming scientific evidence continues to show that abortion
does not harm women — physically or mentally. In the late 1980s, President
Reagan asked his like-minded surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, to conduct a
study on the mental pain caused by abortion. To everyone's surprise, Koop
determined that psychological problems were 'minuscule from a public health
perspective.' The American Psychological Association followed up by
asking a group of six experts to undertake a special review. The panel
concluded in 1989 that terminating an unwanted pregnancy posed no hazard to
women's mental health. The predominant sensation women felt following an
abortion was relief, the group said. 1
In 2004, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), an abortion opponent, called
hearings on the impact of abortion on women, with the goal of securing
federally-funded studies about the alleged harms of abortion. Dr. Nada
Stotland, Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology
at Rush Medical College in Chicago, testified that 'the data from the
most rigorous, objective studies are clear. Abortions are not a significant
cause of mental illness….Unfortunately, there are active and somewhat
successful attempts to convince state and national legislatures, members of
the judiciary, the public, and women considering abortion of the negative
psychiatric and physical consequences for which there is no good evidence'."
An abstract of a paper given at the American Public Health Association's
annual meeting by Janet L. Crepps of the Center for Reproductive Rights
"There has been a significant increase in the number of state
legislatures considering outright bans on abortion. Arguments in favor of
such legislation include claims that abortion harms women's mental and
physical health. Specifically, supporters argue that abortion leads to an
increased risk of suicide, depression, substance abuse, and breast cancer,
and both violent and accidental death. These claims are based on little or
no scientific evidence: the conclusions of well-performed studies are
inaccurately reported; studies with serious methodological flaws are touted
as definitive; and some claims are made with no supporting evidence.
Assertions have also been made that women are incapable of providing
informed consent for abortion, going so far as to state that '[i]t is so far
outside of the normal conduct of a mother to implicate herself in the
killing of here [sic] own child' that '[e]ither the abortion provider must
deceive the mother into thinking that the unborn child does not yet exist'
or 'must encourage her to defy her very nature as a mother to protect her
child.' The suggestion that women are incapable of making informed decisions
about their reproductive health care creates a dangerous slippery slope in
which women's conduct during pregnancy could be subject to ever-increasing
state control. This presentation will examine the evidence, and lack
thereof, supporting the claims that abortion should be prohibited based on
alleged harms to women's health. In addition, the positive public health
benefits of access to safe and legal abortion will be discussed." 3
The author's conclusions:
I entered this study with no preconceived conclusion about which side is
correct. I have concluded that there are elements of truth in both camps.
However, neither group tells the whole story. Please consider:
The cancer link: There is a well established link between early
pregnancy and rates of breast cancer later in life. Physicians have realized
for decades that giving birth results in partial immunity from breast
cancer. The younger the age when she gives birth to her first child, the
greater is her protection . However, the link with abortion is not a direct
one. Having an abortion terminates pregnancy, prevents childbirth, and
prevents the young woman from receiving partial immunity to cancer.
Similarly, not becoming pregnant at all prevents this immunity. This
indirect link is one factor for a pregnant woman to take into account if she
is considering an abortion. But there is no direct link. It is hardly a
basis on which to prohibit women from having abortions, nor is it a basis on
which to advocate that all young women become pregnant in their mid-teens.
The infertility link: Abortions are usually the result of an
unintended and unwanted pregnancy. Sometimes pregnancies happen even after
the most stringent precautions are taken. But many pregnancies are caused by
contraceptive failure or non-use. Pregnancy is one result; it frequently
leads to abortion. STDs are another result; they can cause infertility.
Again, there is an indirect link between abortion and infertility because
both can be caused by contraceptive failure or non-use.
Post abortion syndrome (PAS): This appears to be rare, contrary
to the beliefs of many pro-lifers. But it does exist, contrary to the
beliefs of many pro-choicers. When it does occur, it can be profoundly
debilitating. PAS seems to affect mainly three groups of women:
Those who didn't want to have an abortion, but were pressured by
boyfriend or family to have one.
Those who believed at the time of the abortion that they were
terminating the life of a human person, but could see no other feasible
Those who changed their beliefs at some time after their abortion
and decided that they had ended the life of a human person.
PAS is one reason why a woman considering an abortion should be fully
informed in advance and make a careful evaluation of all of her options.
Cynthia Cooper, "Missouri Governor Appoints Fully Stacked Task Force on
Abortion," Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, 2007-DEC-03, at:
Janet L. Crepps, "Efforts to prohibit abortion based on harms to women's
health: The manipulation of evidence to support overturn of Roe versus
Wade," American Public Health Association, 2007-NOV-06, at: