Mental Health and Abortion

The American Psychological Association (APA) formed the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion to examine the scientific research addressing mental health factors associated with abortion, including the psychological responses following abortion. The Task Force completed a thorough review of all of the empirical studies published in English in peer-reviewed journals since 1989 that compared the mental health of women who had an induced abortion to women who had not. They also reviewed studies that examined factors that predict mental health among women who have had an elective abortion in the United States. The APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion Task Force (2008)1 found:

No evidence that having a single abortion causes mental health problems

The Task Force concluded that there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women. The research consistently found that the backgrounds and circumstances of the women who seek abortions vary. The Task Force found some studies that indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion and some experience “clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety.” The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain.

More research is needed to explore other factors that, in conjunction with pregnancy, may place women at risk of developing mental health problems

The report noted that other risk factors, including poverty, prior exposure to violence, a history of emotional problems, a history of drug or alcohol use, and prior unwanted births place women at risk of experiencing both unwanted pregnancies and mental health problems after a pregnancy, irrespective of how the pregnancy is resolved. Failures to control for these co-occurring risk factors may lead to reports of associations between abortion history and mental health problems that are misleading.

Many of the studies published suffered from serious methodological problems 

Thus, the report focused on those studies found to be most methodologically sound to arrive at its conclusions. Methodological problems included differences in study quality and failures to take into consideration factors which could falsely demonstrate, or mask, a connection between abortion and mental health problems.

1. The conclusions of this report build upon the efforts of an APA working group that conducted a similar review of the literature in 1989.

2. APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. (2008) Report of the APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. Washington DC. APA Public Interest Government Relations Office Mental Health and Abortion.