The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016 (Volume 4: Issue: 42)

The Topic: Censoring Pro-lifers (and Promoting Mental Breakdown) in France

The News Story: French MPs Vote to Ban Abortion Websites that Intimidate Women

The New Research: Aborting Mental Health

The News Story: French MPs Vote to Ban Abortion Websites that Intimidate Women

In a move that has outraged French conservatives, the pro-abortion government has voted to outlaw websites by pro-life agencies deemed to “promote anti-abortion propaganda and pressure women not to terminate pregnancies,” reports the Guardian.

France already has a law that criminalizes pressuring a woman not to abort her baby. That law was meant to target pro-life activists who tried to keep women from entering abortion clinics. Such “pressuring” tactics, proponents of the new law say, have moved to the Internet, where a woman trying to find basic facts on abortion may find—gasp!—websites offering information that would imply abortion was not a perfectly safe, natural, normal procedure. To criticism that the new law violates freedom of expression, the Socialist women’s minister, Laurence Rossignol, told Parliament that “freedom of expression can’t be confused with manipulating people.”

So now that the French government has set itself up as the arbiter of what is and isn’t fact pertaining to abortion, one assumes that all research pointing to abortion’s ill effects on women will be rather hard to find online. But such research continues to accumulate, and among the latest such studies is one finding yet again the negative mental health consequences of abortion.

(Sources: Angelique Chrisafis, “French MPs vote to ban abortion websites that intimidate women,” The Guardian, December 7, 2016.)


The New Research: Aborting Mental Health

For decades, progressive champions of abortion rights have argued that elective abortion safeguards women’s psychological health. But evidence to the contrary keeps surfacing. The latest indication that submitting to an abortion actually puts a woman’s mental well-being in peril comes in a study recently published by sociologist Donald Paul Sullins of the Catholic University of America.

Sullins recognizes a need for a new study of the psychological impact of abortion at a time when, “despite claims to the contrary from psychiatric associations and abortion providers, evidence of psychological distress and mental disorders following abortion continues to accrue.” To be sure, because of the “uneven quality in earlier studies of this question,” physicians see “sharply contested results” that cloud rather than clarify the question. To illustrate just how sharply these results differ, Sullins contrasts two 2011 studies. One study finds an “81% increased risk of mental-health problems for women having an abortion.” The second study concludes that “the rates of mental-health problems for women with unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth.” Looking at other recent studies, Sullins identifies a number finding “a positive association between having an abortion and a range of difficulties, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, suicidality, and substance abuse.” “The most persistent finding,” Sullins notes, “has been that of an association between abortion and subsequent indicators of depression.” Still, he must concede that other recent studies into the psychological effects of abortion have yielded “weak or null results.”

What is needed, Sullins argues, is precisely the kind of long-term data parsed by researchers in two recent studies analyzing the psychological effects of abortion in Norway and New Zealand. By tracking women from adolescence into their late twenties, the authors of these two studies find “small but significant post-abortion increases in the risk of affective and addictive disorders, including depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and abuse of alcohol, marijuana, or other illicit drugs.” 

But Sullins admits that “comparable [long-term] evidence from other countries has not been examined.” It is to that end that he sets out “to amend this lack by replicating the major features of these two studies [from Norway and New Zealand], examining similar, strong longitudinal data from the United States.” Sullins weighs the psychological impact of abortion by using data collected in the United States between 1994 and 2009 from a nationally representative sample of 8,005 women surveyed at ages 15, 22, and 28, data sufficient to indicate linkages between a pregnancy outcome (birth, abortion, or involuntary pregnancy loss [miscarriage]) and subsequent depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, cannabis abuse, and nicotine dependence.

Using a statistical model that accounts for background variables, including race, childhood sexual or verbal abuse, neuroticism, poverty, educational attainment, and intimate partner violence, Sullins draws from the data the unmistakable finding that “abortion is consistently associated with a moderate increase in risk of mental health disorders during late adolescence and early adulthood.” Summarizing his conclusions, Sullins writes, “Exposure to induced abortion was consistently associated with increased rate of most mental disorders.” More particularly, women who had submitted to an abortion were more than three times more likely to report “illicit drug abuse/dependence” than were peers who had not had an abortion (Odds Ratio of 3.02). Less dramatic but still statistically significant are the elevations of risk among women who had an abortion that show up for cannabis abuse/dependence (Odds Ratio of 2.30), depression (Odds Ratio of 1.54), alcohol abuse/dependence (Odds Ratio of 1.51), anxiety disorder (Odds Ratio of 1.49), and suicidal ideation (Odds Ratio of 1.40). “The trend is summarized,” Sullins remarks, “in the fact that women exposed to abortion from ages 15 to 29 (on average) experienced overall rates of mental-health problems 1.34 times higher than those not exposed to abortion (p < 0.001).”

In sharp contrast, the data reveal that “exposure to live birth was consistently associated with reduced rates of mental disorders” (emphasis added).  Compared to peers who had not given birth to a live child, those who had given birth were less than half as likely to report suicidal ideation, illicit drug abuse/dependence, or alcohol abuse/dependence (Odds Ratios of 0.52, 0.61, and 0.61 respectively). “This trend is summarized,” in Sullins’ view, “in the fact that women giving birth from ages 15 to 29 experienced overall rates of mental-health problems 0.66 times lower than those not giving birth.”

Overall, Sullins regards his findings as “remarkably similar” to the Norwegian and New Zealand studies from which he has taken his study design. Sullins marvels at “the similarity of results . . . given the very different cultural, social, and legal contexts examined.” This similarity, he reasons, may even validate the supposition that “while most cultures have slowly come to consider abortion as a normal and acceptable part of women’s health care, the real psychological effects that aborting one’s child has on a mother can never be completely avoided.”

Teasing out the further implications of his study, Sullins stresses “the remarkably consistent” association between abortion and “elevated risk of mental disorders,” an association not seen with any other pregnancy outcome. This consistent association indicates that “the association of abortion with subsequent mental distress is not merely contingent but is indeed causal,” especially since this association remains “robust” in statistical models adjusting for extensive background variables.

In his conclusion, Sullins marvels over “the expectation of therapeutic benefit, not merely the absence of harm,” as a fundamental “premise of expanded access to abortion.” But as he surveys the available empirical literature, Sullins finds “not a single study [that] has documented mental health benefits for women from the practice of induced abortion.” On the other hand, his own study adds to “the growing body of evidence that supports the claim that exposure to abortion among women facing pregnancy is implicated in higher rates of mental distress.”

(Source: Bryce Christensen and Nicole King, forthcoming in “New Research,” The Natural Family 31.1, 2016. Study: Donald Paul Sullins, “Abortion, Substance Abuse and Mental Health in Early Adulthood: Thirteen-Year Longitudinal Evidence from the United States,” SAGE Open Medicine 4 [2016]: 2050312116665997, Web.)