Study Finds Later Abortions Linked to Mental Health Risks, Women Pressured

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 30, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Study Finds Later Abortions Linked to Mental Health Risks, Women Pressured

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 30
, 2010

Washington, DC ( — A new study finds the later a woman has an abortion the more likely it is that she faces mental health risks and is under pressure from a partner or others to have an abortion she may not otherwise want. Women getting later abortions also are more likely to be ambivalent about having an abortion.

The results came from an online survey of 374 women who answered a detailed questionnaire about the circumstances leading to their abortions, their previous mental health history, history of physical or sexual abuse and emotional state following abortion.

Although small, the study, published in the Journal of Pregnancy by Dr. Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University, is the first to compare the experiences of women having early abortions compared to women having later abortions (in the second or third trimester).

The study found women after 13 weeks of pregnancy were more likely to report that their partner desired the pregnancy (22.4 percent of women who had later abortions vs. 10.3 percent of women who had early abortions) and that they were pressured by someone other than their partner to abort (47.8 percent vs. 30.5 percent).

The women having later abortions were more likely to report that their partner didn’t know about the abortion (23.9 percent vs. 12.5 percent), that they had left their partner before the abortion (28.3 percent vs. 15.6 percent) and that physical health concerns were a factor in having the abortion (29.8 percent vs. 14.7 percent).

Ambivalence about the abortion, unwanted abortion and poor pre-abortion counseling were also commonly reported in the late-term abortion group, according to the Elliot Institute, an abortion research group that pointed to the study.

Nearly 40 percent of women in the survey said they desired the pregnancy and only 30 percent said both they and their partner supported the abortion, while less than 14 percent said they received adequate pre-abortion counseling or information on alternatives or physical and emotional risks.

"In general, these results are indicative of more ambivalence and conflict surrounding the decision and the likelihood of less stable partner relationships among women who obtain later abortions," the authors wrote. "Logically, women who are unsure about how to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy are more likely to put off the decision to abort, perhaps hoping their circumstances will improve and enable them to carry to term."

Meanwhile, the Elliot Institute noted a survey of American and Russian women who had abortions, published in the Medical Science Monitor in 2004, found that 64 percent of the American respondents reported feeling pressured to abort, while more than half said they felt rushed or uncertain about the decision and more than 80 percent reported receiving inadequate counseling beforehand.

The new study also found high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms for women having both early and late abortions, with 52 percent of the early abortion group and 67 percent of the late term abortion group meeting the American Psychological Association’s criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms (PTSD).

One possible cause may be a high number of women having unwanted abortions due to the reactions of those around them, the authors said.

"Concern regarding reactions of others to having a child" was the mostly frequently cited reason for abortion for both early (69.1 percent) and late (62 percent) abortions; however, they wrote, many women likely had abortions "despite ambivalence or actually desiring to continue the pregnancy."

Feelings of ambivalence or having an unwanted abortion are known risk factors for psychological problems after abortion.

When it came to differences between the late and early abortion groups, women having later abortions were more likely to report having disturbing dreams, reliving the abortion, having trouble sleeping and experiencing intrusion, a PTSD symptom that involves having recurring memories, flashbacks or hyperactivity when confronted with reminders of the trauma.

The 2004 Medical Science Monitor survey found that 65 percent of American women who had abortions reported experiencing symptoms of PTSD, which they attributed to their abortions. Other studies have also linked abortion to increased rates of depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders and other mental health problems.

The authors said that their new study is best viewed as a "pilot" study on which to base future research on the psychological impact of late-term abortion, and called for more counseling and support for women undergoing later abortions.

Citation for the new study: PK Coleman, CT Coyle & VM Rue, "Late-Term Elective Abortion and Susceptibility to Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms," Journal of Pregnancy, Aug. 2010.

Related web sites:
Elliot Institute –


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