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Abortion and mental health during the transition to adulthood

Anu Gomez, San Francisco State University, 2013

Project abstract

Research examining the controversial question of whether abortion has detrimental effects on women’s psychological well-being is increasingly being used to shape health policy in the United States. While some U.S.-based studies have found no link between abortion history and mental health outcomes, other research—plagued by methodological problems—has indicated that women who have abortions are more likely to experience poor mental health outcomes. Despite serious methodological flaws, such as failing to control for prior mental health and using inappropriate comparison groups, such research provides the basis for increasing restrictive state-level targeting abortion access across the U.S.

For example, as of April 1st, 22 states now mandate that women seeking abortions be counseled on potential psychological consequences of abortion, with 8 states providing information only on potential negative emotional responses. Even though the research evidence does not support the narrative that abortion harms women, this framing is increasingly used as justification for efforts to restrict and deny abortion access in the United States.

Given the importance of this topic to public policy, there is a need for well-designed studies to further examine the question of whether there is a correlation between abortion and subsequent mental health. The proposed study will use nationally representative, longitudinal data from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health to test the hypothesis that—after adjusting for prior depression—women who have abortions do not have higher odds of subsequent depression compared to women who gave birth after unintended pregnancy. Because this study will utilize a nationally representative and longitudinal dataset and focus on the young adulthood period, it provides a unique contribution to the growing literature investigating whether a correlation exists between abortion and mental health.


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