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

April 30, 2008

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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