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Do women suffer from depression after their abortions?

by | Jan 26, 2024

By Michael Cook

“It’s important for folks to know that abortion does not cause mental health problems,” Debra Mollen, of Texas Woman’s University, told the American Psychological Association in 2022. “What’s harmful are the stigma surrounding abortion, the lack of knowledge about it, and the lack of access.”

A link between abortion and depression is one of the most controversial topics in all of medicine, so it’s unlikely that an American consensus will be punctured by one study. But a recent systematic review and meta-analysis in BMC Psychiatry claims that globally the prevalence of post-abortion depression is 34.5% — more than one in three women.

Perhaps the reason for the difference lies in the fact that the six co-authors are all Ethiopian. They claim that their paper is “the first global meta-analysis of literature on post-abortion depression, to the best of the researchers’ knowledge”.

Their conclusions are tentative, as they were based on geographic regions rather than countries – and not all of the regions, either. “The continents of North America, South America, and Antarctica were not included due to a paucity of available literature,” they explain. It’s not surprising that statistics about abortion in Antarctica are scarce, but in North and South America? Perhaps US researchers decided that it is not an issue worth worrying about.

In any case, North America and South America are also-rans in the global population stakes. Asia, Africa, and Europe account for 87% of the world’s population and for most of the world’s abortions.

Find more statistics at Statista.

What the Ethiopian researchers found is that post-abortion depression is more prevalent in the Eastern Mediterranean region and in Asia. Depression is much more common in lower and middle-income countries (42.91%) than in high-income countries (24.9%). “This disparity may be attributed to the low social status of individuals, which can impede access to intangible resources such as security, opportunity, and education, irrespective of their objective income levels when they reside below the societal material standards,” they write. “The loss of certain types of social capital is believed to contribute to family dysfunction, health issues, and mood disorders.”

There is great variation amongst regions. Asia had the highest prevalence of post-abortion depression (37.58%), followed by Europe (32.69%), Africa (34.1%), and Australia (30%). The Eastern Mediterranean region had the highest prevalence (38.94%) while the European region had the lowest (32.69%).

These statistics are puzzling in the light of the vehemence with which American pro-abortion groups deny that abortion ever triggers mental health issues. The explanation may have something to do with the words “wanted” and “unintended”. The APA said that “getting a wanted abortion does not cause significant psychological problems, despite beliefs to the contrary”. Even if that is true in the United States, do all women around the world want their abortions? According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights think tank, “Roughly 121 million unintended pregnancies occurred each year between 2015 and 2019. Of these unintended pregnancies, 61% ended in abortion. This translates to 73 million abortions per year” – and about 25 million women suffering from depression.

This Ethiopian paper needs to be discussed more widely. The main news outlets seem to have ignored it.

Editor’s note. This appeared in BioEdge and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Abortion