Policies based on the notion that undergoing an abortion causes or increases women’s risk of suicide attempts are misinformed, according to the results of a 17-year-long observational study including more than half a million 18 to 36-year-old Danish women who had a first, first-trimester abortion, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal. The study, led by Dr. Julia Steinberg of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, is the first to compare the risk of women attempting suicide before and after an abortion.
Although women in the study who had abortions had a higher risk of first-time non-fatal suicide attempts, a closer look at the data suggests this cannot be attributed to the abortion itself. Instead, pre-existing mental health problems (which were more common in women having abortions than in women not having abortions) were associated with the increased risk of attempted suicide.
“The view that having an abortion leads to suicidal thoughts, plans, or even suicide attempts has been used to inform abortion policies,” says lead author Dr Julia R. Steinberg, assistant professor of family science. “In the U.S., there are 12 states with laws that require women going for an abortion to be told they are at higher risk of suicide or other long-term mental health consequences. The evidence from our study does not support this.”
Previous research on abortion and suicidal ideation has not considered prior mental health, has had low participation and high attrition rates, or has relied on self-reporting of abortion (and suicidal ideation). The new study is the first to address these limitations.Friday Letter Submission, Publish on November 22