A new Dutch study found that women who have a first-time abortion in the first trimester are slightly less likely to have mental health problems (termed “psychiatric episodes” by the researchers) than women who give birth.
The study included more than 366,000 teens and women who had an abortion or delivered their first child in the Netherlands between 1995 and 2007. About 85,000 had an abortion, while about 281,000 gave birth.
Researchers examined medical records of the women for nine months before and nine months after they either had a baby, or an abortion.
Of the women who had an abortion, about 1 percent needed mental-health counseling beforehand, and about 1.5 percent needed counseling afterward. For women that gave birth, only 0.4 percent required mental-health assistance beforehand, and about 0.7 percent obtained it afterward.
The researchers, and many media reports, note that the increase for mental-health counseling was greater among new mothers than patients who had an abortion. But there do seem to be a few important things to consider…
As noted above, among the women who had an abortion, more than twice as many needed mental-health assistance beforehand. TIME reported that women who have abortions tend to come from lower-income households and have higher rates of accidental pregnancy.
Second, post-partum depression is a common complication of pregnancy, so the up-tick in women who sought mental-health assistance after giving birth is no surprise. In fact, the number seems quite low, as less than 1 woman out of 100 needed the help.
A separate 2010 British study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that more than one-third of new mothers battle depression before their child’s 12th birthday, with the most cases occurring in the first year after birth. The Dutch study, however, only included “psychiatric episodes.”
Third, as one Pro-Life doctor put it, the Dutch study included only women who were having their first abortion. He noted that about half of all abortions in the U.S. are performed for women who have already had a previous abortion. Also, 11 percent of U.S. abortions are performed after the first trimester in the U.S. The Dutch study included only first-trimester abortions because abortion is illegal in the Netherlands after 12 weeks.
The latest Dutch study does, however, corroborate a review performed by the American Psychological Association in 2008. That research also found that there was a negligible links between mental-health problems and abortion.
The Dutch study appears in this week’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The study does seem to provide meaningful results, but those results should be put in context.
Abortion is a huge topic for debate in and of itself, and the studies surrounding it are often called into question by both sides. The Dutch study, in fact, was partially funded by a foundation that backs abortion rights. One more reason that, regardless of our stance, we should always read the fine print when it comes to medical research.
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