Religion in Society

Study Links Abortion, Substance Abuse

| by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON -- A study from the University of Manitoba has found that women who have had an abortion are nearly four times as likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol as those who have not.

Researchers also identified an association between mental disorders and abortion and suggested that doctors should screen for a history of abortion in women who present symptoms of anxiety, mood disorders and substance abuse.

Published in the April issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychology, the study said depression and substance abuse plague about half of American women who reported having an abortion, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

Research involving more than 3,300 women showed that about 25 percent who had undergone an abortion acknowledged some substance abuse, while such abuse was found in only 7 percent of non-abortive women, the Free Press reported.

Women who had abortions were 3.8 times more likely to have substance use disorders than those who had not, even when an exposure to violence -- which increases the odds of substance abuse -- was factored in, the Toronto Sun reported.

"The bond between a woman and her unborn baby is very powerful," C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said in comments to Baptist Press. "It shouldn't be surprising to anyone, therefore, that abortion is a traumatic experience and that subsequent substance abuse is higher among those who have had one."

Mitchell suggested: "Shouldn't women considering abortion be informed about the higher risk for substance abuse? And those who care for women who have had abortions should be alert to the signs of substance abuse."

Natalie Mota, the study's primary author, said the link between abortion and substance abuse may have been as strong as it was because women used alcohol or other drugs as a form of self-medication, though the research did not look into that. She also cautioned against drawing another conclusion.

"You absolutely cannot say from this data that an abortion causes mental illness," Mota said. "There's an association present, but whether the mental illness comes before or after needs to be further examined."

Researchers speculate that other factors, such as violence and poor social supports, may contribute to mental disorders, the Free Press said. Women with household incomes of $75,000 were more likely to report an abortion than those with household incomes under $25,000.

While other studies have found similar links, this study used a larger and more representative sample of women, Mota said, and the results indicate more research is needed to explore the link between abortion and mental health.

Priscilla Coleman, a family studies professor at Bowling Green State University, told that the Manitoba study provides more evidence for the American Psychological Association in a challenge to its position that abortion presents no mental health problems for women.

"This report represents the latest in a series of articles from across the globe (United States, New Zealand, Australia, Norway and South Africa) published in recent years directly contradicting the findings of the American Psychological Association Task Force report released in 2008," Coleman said. "Large scale, well-controlled studies using sophisticated data analysis methodologies consistently confirm a relationship between abortion and psychological distress that the national professional organization has dismissed," Coleman added.