Abortion does not cause mental illness. The very idea of “abortion trauma syndrome” is a myth. Period. In my years of treating women as an ob-gyn, I have never seen a patient who developed a serious psychiatric problem just because she had an abortion.
My colleague Dr. Nada Stotland—a psychiatrist, past president of the American Psychiatric Association, and former board member of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health—has studied the research behind the “syndrome.” She explains that it doesn’t stand up to medical scrutiny:
There are a great number of publications alleging that there is psychiatric damage from abortion. They usually don’t describe a syndrome; they describe suicide, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, whatever. And those articles are characterized by severe methodological problems. They don’t compare properly with people who have had babies. They don’t account for why you had the abortion. They don’t account for did they get this data by recruiting people who are already convinced that abortion made them sick rather than from a population of women which had abortions.
There’s one problem after the other that are so severe that all bona fide scientists have agreed that that literature just doesn’t cut it.
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But the bad science hasn’t stopped anti-abortion activists from spreading “abortion trauma” as truth. Crisis pregnancy centers tell women that an abortion will destroy their mental health. And in South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia, the law requires abortion providers to “inform” women that they may have suicidal thoughts or develop the syndrome as a result of an abortion.
Helping the myth take hold, Dr. Stotland says, is the pervasive confusion between a feeling and a disease:
Women who have abortions have a range of feelings. One of the problems we have is that we use the word “depression” as an every day word to say you are having a bad day. And it also means a disease and those are two different things. So abortion doesn’t cause depression the disease, but people can be upset around having an abortion. So there are a lot of things that make you upset, that can make you sad about having an abortion, but they don’t make you have a psychiatric disease.
Indeed, a 2000 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry confirmed what clinicians know from our medical practice: that a woman’s mental health after an abortion is best indicated by her mental health before the abortion. The same is true for post-partum mental health.
Dr. Stotland and I and our colleagues across the country do our best to treat patients and give advice based on the strongest medical evidence. That is our duty. We will challenge any bunk meant to separate women from the care they need.