The media is abuzz today about a study published online in the NewEngland Journal of Medicine by a group of Danish researchers that attempts to show that there's no difference between the risk of mental health disorders in women who have a first trimester abortion and those who experience a first childbirth.
The study actually has major problems that counter such a conclusion. For starters, the researchers had access to comprehensive Danish medical databases, and they selected girls and women with no record of mental disorders who also had a first-trimester abortion or a first childbirth from 1995-2007. Then they estimated first-time psychiatric visits for 12 months after the abortion or childbirth in comparison with the 9-month period preceding. In the abortion group, the incidence of psychiatric visits (per 1000 person-years) was 14.6 (pre-) and 15.2 (post-). For the first pregnancy group, it was 3.9 before birth and 6.7 post-partum. They concluded that "the relative risk of psychiatric contact did not differ significantly after abortion as compared with before abortion ... but did increase after childbirth as compared with before childbirth...." So, pregnancy causes a relatively bigger jump in psychiatric visits post-partum according to the researchers than abortion.
A major problem we see is that the data indicate that the mental health issues both before and after were significantly higher for the abortion group than for the childbirth group. It was also much higher than for those who were not pregnant (8.2%).
The fact that the abortion group's before and after contact rate was comparable does not negate a possible causal link between abortion and mental health. This is so because many of the women were probably in distress and needed to seek help because they were pregnant and contemplating an abortion or had already chosen one and were awaiting the procedure.
The published literature supports the contention that there are high levels of stress among women facing an unplanned pregnancy and thinking about aborting. The study supports this in that the childbirth group did not have that level of distress either before or after the procedure. In fact, the study seems to indicate that abortion-minded women are more at risk psychologically than the women who are going to give birth and those who are not pregnant.