Currently, twenty states in the USA have policies that require a woman wanting an abortion to be counseled on possible mental health outcomes. Six of these states require that pre-abortion counseling must hold a negative connotation regarding a woman’s mental health outcome. But recent research, published in Psychological Medicine, found that mental illness is not a direct result of having an abortion.
In 1994, The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) began the first of four segments of research, Wave 1. During this time, 20,745 students from 80 schools, grades 7-12 during the ‘94-‘95 school term, received in-home questionnaires. Parents received a separate in-home parental survey to complete.
One year later, Wave 2 of the study took place. Questionnaires were sent to students who completed Wave 1, and had not yet graduated high school.
Wave 3 data was collected five years later (2001-2002), making the participants’ ages 18-25.
Wave 4 took place in 2007-2008. During this last collection of data, participants were age 24-32.
In each Wave, the participants were asked about any depressive symptoms within the previous 7 days, using a condensed version of the Center of Epidemiology Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). A few of the questions asked during each Wave included if the participant had felt sad, enjoyed life, and felt that people disliked them. They then rated each question on a frequency scale: never, rarely, most of the time, or all of the time.
Wave 3 and Wave 4 asked questions about traumatic events occurring before age 18. Some of these questions included asking about psychological, physical and sexual abuse. These experiences were rated based on how many traumatic events had occurred: 0, 1, 2, 3+. During these last two Waves, questions regarding the participants 1st pregnancy were also asked; whether it was an unwanted pregnancy and if it ended in abortion or a live birth.
The final count of women who partook in this research through every Wave is 7,870. The research based on the data collected over this 15 year study showed that women who experienced their 1st unwanted pregnancy during adolescence or young adulthood showed no depressive symptoms after an abortion. The only participants who did show depressive symptoms were women who showed these symptoms from the beginning of the study, and stayed consistent throughout the research.
According to the author of this study, A. M. Gomez of the University of California at Berkeley, adolescent trauma has a direct influence on adult mental health.
Gomez states, “This analysis and the growing body of work that finds no link between having an abortion and subsequent mental health suggests that policy and clinical efforts that aim to improve women’s mental health should focus elsewhere.”