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Abortion access

Overview: Do abortions trigger later
emotional or physical health problems

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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'." 2

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 stated:

"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

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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:

bulletThe 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.
bulletThe 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.
bulletPost 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:
bulletThose who didn't want to have an abortion, but were pressured by boyfriend or family to have one.
bulletThose who believed at the time of the abortion that they were terminating the life of a human person, but could see no other feasible option.
bulletThose 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.

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  1. "Study Finds Little Lasting Distress From Abortion," Associated Press, 1990-APR-06, at: http://query.nytimes.com/
  2.  Cynthia Cooper, "Missouri Governor Appoints Fully Stacked Task Force on Abortion," Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, 2007-DEC-03, at: http://www.rcrc.org/
  3. 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: http://apha.confex.com/

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 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Medical problems > here

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Copyright 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2007-DEC-06
Last updated 2007-DEC-06
Author: Bruce A Robinson

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