It makes no difference to a woman's mental health whether she chooses to have an abortion or continue with the pregnancy, researchers found. Women with unwanted pregnancy do have a higher incidence of mental health issues than those in the general population, but the rates of problems are the same whether a woman opts for a termination or goes on to give birth, according to the report commissioned and published by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.
The report, which included data on hundreds of thousands of women in 44 previous studies, was carried out by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Professor Tim Kendall, director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, said 11% to 12% of the general population suffer depression and anxiety. But this rises to about a third of women who have an unwanted pregnancy.
Prof Kendall said that having an unwanted pregnancy may cause mental health problems, a woman may already have problems before becoming pregnant, or it could be a combination of the two. The experts found that women who had a history of mental health problems before having an abortion were more likely to suffer problems after the procedure. Factors that may potentially increase the risk of mental health issues after an abortion included women being pressurised by a partner to have an abortion, stressful events, or the woman herself having a negative attitude towards abortions.
Prof Kendall said the future focus of research should be on dealing with the impact of unwanted pregnancy rather than on whether abortion itself causes mental health problems. The team behind today's report had looked purely at the mental health aspects of abortion, he added. ''There is a separate debate, which is about the ethics and about legal abortion, illegal abortion, the physical consequences, which are not part of our report.
''We are simply saying that with regard to the mental health outcomes, we should now shift our attention to the problems associated with unwanted pregnancy, not abortion.''A three-month consultation was held on today's findings so interested groups including pro-life charities and members of the public could comment.
Dr Roch Cantwell, a consultant perinatal psychiatrist and chairman of the steering group, said: ''Our review shows that abortion is not associated with an increase in mental health problems. ''Women who are carrying an unwanted pregnancy should be reassured that current evidence shows they are no more likely to experience mental health problems if they decide to have an abortion than if they decide to give birth.''Professor Sir Neil Douglas, chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: ''The Academy recognises that this is a complex and controversial area, where there have been many conflicting research findings.