An authoritative new study from researchers in Denmark, noteworthy for its exceptionally strong methodology, confirms what the best scientific evidence has long shown—that there is no causal link between abortion and mental health problems. The new study, “Induced First-Trimester Abortion and Risk of Mental Disorder,” by Trine Munk-Olsen and colleagues, was published in the January 27, 2011, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study succeeds in addressing several critical limitations that have afflicted some other studies that purport to show causation between abortion and subsequent mental health problems. It can be viewed as unusually rigorous for this type of research for several reasons.
- The sample was very large, comprising 84,620 women who had first-time, first-trimester abortions between 1995 and 2007.
- It did not rely on retrospective self-reports from women, who typically underreport abortions. Instead, it was based on complete patient medical registries, which include virtually all mental health disorders, births and abortions experienced by the Danish population: the Danish Psychiatric Central Register and the Danish National Register of Patients.
- The study has strong controls for women’s mental health prior to abortion, a critical factor that many other studies do not control for sufficiently, if at all.
The study found no higher rate of mental health problems among Danish women in the 12 months following an abortion than in the nine months prior to the procedure.
Not all studies on the mental health impact of abortion are created equal. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, methodological flaws are “pervasive in the literature on abortion and mental health.” Antiabortion activists often attempt to capitalize on the fact that the public and many policymakers cannot distinguish between studies that allow legitimate conclusions to be drawn about the effects of abortion and those that show only associations between abortion and mental health outcomes.
Antiabortion activists have relied on questionable science in their efforts to push inclusion of the concept of “postabortion syndrome” in both clinical practice and law. This latest study strongly confirms the existing body of methodologically sound evidence in clearly refuting the idea that abortion causes harm to women’s mental health. The body of evidence is now so robust that researchers should consider shifting their focus to related issues that might be more valuable to explore, such as the factors that cause women to experience mental health problems in the first place.
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