Having an abortion does not increase the risk of mental health problems in women, say researchers who reviewed over 180 potentially relevant studies.

The new study was commissioned by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and carried out by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH) at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The Steering research group identified 180 potentially relevant studies published between 1990 and 2011 to use towards evidence. In total 44 papers were included in the review.

“This review has attempted to address the limitations of previous reviews of the relationship between abortion and mental health. We believe that we have used the best quality evidence available, and that this is the most comprehensive and detailed review of the mental health outcomes of induced abortion to date worldwide,” said Professor Tim Kendall, Director of the NCCMH and a member of the steering group.

The authors highlighted the best evidence available.

  • Having an unwanted pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems. However, the rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy are the same, whether they have an abortion or give birth.
  • The most reliable predictor of post-abortion mental health problems is having a history of mental health problems. In other words, women who have had mental health problems before the abortion are at greater risk of mental health problems after the abortion.
  • Some other factors may be associated with increased rates of post-abortion mental health problems, such as a woman having a negative attitude towards abortions in general, being under pressure from her partner to have an abortion, or experiencing other stressful life events.

They say that future practices and research should focus on supporting all women who have an unwanted pregnancy.

Professor Sir Neil Douglas, Chairman of the AOMRC, said that “The Academy recognizes that this is a complex and controversial area, where there have been many conflicting research findings. We welcome this extremely high-quality review from the NCCMH, and endorse its findings.”