New Study Examines Depression in Women, Including Effects of Abortion and Partner Violence

By Rachel Walden |

A new study in BMJ Public Health examines depression in women and the relationship of past abortions to the condition. This new report is particularly interesting because it attempts to control for the effects of sociodemographic factors and considers the women’s experiences of intimate partner violence, recognizing that multiple factors may impact a woman’s mental health.

Although the study focuses on Australian women, it may be of interest to readers in other countries as well due to recent attempts by anti-choice groups to promote the existence of a so-called “post-abortion syndrome,” or causal link between abortion and depression, which has thus far been unsupported by the medical evidence. Similar to unsupported and debunked claims of an abortion/breast cancer link, this tactic frames the pro-choice position as anti-women’s health, despite the lack of evidence to support that framing. (For background reading, try this commentary in Ms. Magazine and a lengthy discussion of the issue in the New York Times.)

In the new study, researchers surveyed Australian women ages 18-23, collecting data on sociodemographic variables, reproductive history, and intimate partner violence. The women also completed depression scales and questions about past diagnosis of depression, with a follow-up survey conducted four years later.

Before controlling for other variables, a previous pregnancy termination or having two or more children was associated with an increased risk of depression. However, when the researchers controlled for those other factors, there was no longer an association between abortion and depression, and the increased odds of depression for those with two or more children dropped to be almost insignificant.

Further, the authors found that, even after controlling for sociodemographic factors, experiencing intimate partner violence had a significant effect on the odds of depression, suggesting that is violence a more important factor than either abortion or childbearing with regards to women’s mental health.

Meanwhile, anti-choice advocate Michaelene Fredenburg has started the “Abortion Changes You” website, inviting people to submit their stories of regret and shame. ImNotSorry.net takes a different approach, offering an alternative story-sharing site for women who need a space to say that they are not ashamed of their choices.

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9 Comments

  1. mpro says:

    It seems pretty obvious that violence toward a woman (or a man for that matter) could easily aid in the formation of a depressed state.

    I’m not sure I buy the “science” related to the de-correlation of a previous abortion or parenting multiple children when it comes to depression. By removing the sociodemographic factors, the researchers are no longer working in reality, they are working in a sterile scientific fantasy world. The fact is we are all somewhat biased and bound by our sociodemographic make-up. If a person is depressed because she happened to grow up in a strict Catholic environment and then had an abortion, you can’t just discount her feelings because if she would have been raised agnostic that “guilt” may not be there.

  2. Rachel says:

    mpro, thanks for commenting. This study isn’t “de-correlating” as you suggest – the existing evidence on abortion and depression also suggests that there is no significant correlation. In other words, this study basically replicates what has already been demonstrated by other researchers.

    This type of multiple logistic regression is actually an extremely common technique for allowing researchers to sort out the different effects of multiple independent variables. Say we want to know if abortion “causes” depression. In your example it’s the Catholic upbringing wrt abortion that is associated with the depression, not a physiological effect of abortion. That is not to say that an individual woman may not experience some regret or depression (which may be related to other issues, such as violence), but it’s not a biological given that abortion causes depression, and the researchers found that having had an abortion did not predict or raise the odds of depression. It’s a bit complicated, but there’s a fairly straightforward example in the first paragraph here: http://www.statsoft.com/textbook/stmulreg.html

  3. Sarah says:

    Anti Choice? You mean pro life.

    When you speak of CHOICE, please FINISH the sentence and make it clear that the choice you advocate is for KILLING unborn children, and not choosing a salad dressing .

    PS- Pro choice on abortion = pro abortion. Even dictionary definitions support this.

    If you support the killing of unborn children- who are sometimes sentient- then at least have the decency to be intellectually honest with the language you use.

  4. Rachel says:

    Nope, pro-choice means that women have a choice to carry a pregnancy to term or not. Abortion is one choice, and it’s disingenuous to suggest that pro-choice folks only support that one choice or somehow advocate for forced abortions. It’s also completely disingenuous to suggest that when we’re talking about abortion, someone might get confused and think we mean salad dressing. I’d like to see where that has happened. Just as dictionaries reflect how words are used in real life, the term “pro-choice” is well known to refer to choices regarding pregnancy (including abortion) when speaking about abortion. We (I) want women to have that choice remain safe and legal. If “pro-life” folks want to take that choice away from individual women, then they are anti-choice.

  5. Sarah says:

    Prior to posting garbage, why not actually consult a dictionary first?

    Both words equally mean something along the lines of being in FAVOUR/ FOR the procurement of legalised abortion.

    To be anti abortion is to be OPPOSED to abortion, so clearly the opposite of being opposed to abortion is being in SUPPORT of abortion, hence the prefix “PRO”.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pro%20abortion

    Pro abortion

    –adjective

    pro-choice.

    Also, pro-a⋅bor⋅tion.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pro%20choice

    –adjective

    supporting or advocating legalized abortion.

    If someone is opposed to legalised slavery, then the term “anti choice” can equally be applied to them too, as said person would be opposed to others CHOOSING to own slaves.

    Choice is often good, but not ALWAYS, in particular when the choice being discussed is the enslaving blacks, or the choice of ending an inoncent life.

    That is why the word “choice” should be removed and replaced with the act you’re advocating- abortion.

    If you support abortion, then be upfront about it, and stop using deceptive and digestible euphenisms to hide the gravity of what you are advocating, the KILLING of a LIFE.

  6. Rachel says:

    I don’t want to go back and forth about this, as we obviously disagree. I think it’s clear that, in the context of abortion discussions, “choice” is a reference to the choice to have or not have an abortion, not about slavery or salad dressing or any other possible choices. However, I’m inclined to let this go, because I don’t think arguments about the labels get us anywhere with regards to the actual issue, and it doesn’t look like we can keep this civil.

  7. Anne says:

    I am a woman who had an abortion, and I am still extremely depressed about it (it was over 2 years ago). I don’t care what the study says. I am a robot going through the motions of living, after my abortion. I was under a lot of fear and anxiety and heavily coerced into it by the baby’s father and another person. I was going to school and I had no support where I needed it most. But now I would give anything to have that baby back. Nothing is worth having an abortion over. I feel my baby’s blood is on anything I “gained” as a result of the abortion. And you prochoicers who are always criticizing prolife guys for trying to control women’s bodies, why don’t you start with the many “prochoice” guys who coerce, pressure, intimidate, and guilt-trip their girlfriend into getting an abortion.