The Washington Post blog, The Checkup, reports that a new analysis disputes the contention that women who have abortions are more prone to mental health problems. The story is by Rob Stein.
Here is an excerpt. You can link to the complete story here. Image to the left is the Mental Health Awareness ribbon.
Julia Steinberg of the University of California, San Francisco, and Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute examined data collected by the National Comorbidity Survey. In 2009, Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University and colleagues published an analysis of the same data that concluded that compared with women who had never had an abortion, women who reported having had an abortion were at increased risk for anxiety, mood disorders and substance abuse.
But the new analysis, published online by the journal Social Science & Medicine, failed to find the same link, even without taking into account other key factors such as a history of mental health problems.
"We were unable to reproduce the most basic tabulations of Coleman and colleagues," Steinberg said in a statement released with the paper. "Moreover, their findings were logically inconsistent with other published research -- for example, they found higher rates of depression in the last month than other studies found during respondents' entire lifetimes. This suggests that the results were substantially inflated."
The study reported on by the Washington Post blog falls under one area of Dr. Steinberg’s research, which focuses on understanding the relationship between abortion and mental health. In this research, Dr. Steinberg has compared the post-pregnancy mental health of women who have abortions to women who have other pregnancy outcomes (e.g., deliveries). Her research is motivated by both a scientific debate and policies based on the notion that abortion harms women’s mental health. Dr. Steinberg and her co-author, Dr. Lawrence B. Finer of The Guttmacher Institute, write that many studies claiming to find evidence that abortion harms women’s mental health are methodologically flawed.
Dr. Steinberg’s research suggests that research, clinical practice, and policy should not focus on abortion as the cause of mental health problems, but rather prior mental health and violence experience as risk factors for post-pregnancy (regardless of the pregnancy outcome) mental health problems. She argues that a relationship between abortion and mental health that is found when no factors are controlled for in analyses is questionable due to other factors that are associated with both having abortions and post-pregnancy mental health problems. Consequently, when these other factors are controlled for in analyses, it is expected that there is no longer an association between abortion and post-pregnancy mental health. Her research, including this article in Social Science and Medicine, has found support for this perspective. Furthermore, she finds that strong predictors of post-pregnancy mental health are pre-pregnancy violence experience and pre-pregnancy mental health.
Examining the association of abortion history and current mental health: A reanalysis of the National Comorbidity Survey using a common-risk-factors Model (available here as a PDF) is set to come out in Social Science and Medicine, 72 (1), 72-82, the January 2011 issue.
Julia Steinberg, PhD is the recipient of a prestigious K award – the UCSF Building Interdisciplinary Careers in Women's Health (BIRCWH) (K12) – and will be appointed Assistant Professor in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry. Her path-breaking work in the area of mental health and abortion has made a large impact on the literature and the media during her year as an Ellertson Social Science Postdoctoral Fellow at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health within the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.