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News of the Day ... In Perspective

11/3/2006

British psychiatrists and obstetricians call for changed abortion guidance

In an Oct 27 letter to The Times of London, 15 prominent physicians asked the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Psychiatrists to revise their abortion guidance so as to advise women about long-term adverse psychiatric consequences of abortion.

A New Zealand study published in January in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry showed that “women who had had abortions had twice the level of mental health problems and three times the risk of major depressive illness as those who had given birth or never been pregnant,” they wrote.

The association of abortion with depression, anxiety, suicidal behavior, and substance abuse persisted after adjustment for confounding factors (see: Fergusson DM, et al. J Child Psychol Psychiatry Allied Disciplines 2006;47:16-24).

The study is the first to establish that abortion could trigger depression and other illnesses in women with no mental problems in the past, writes Rosemary Bennett in The Times. The research prompted the American Psychology Association to withdraw an official statement that denied a link between abortion and psychological harm.

The letter comes on the 29th anniversary of the legalization of abortion in Britain. Since 1967, more than 6 million abortions have been performed in Britain.

The anniversary is also marked by a new battle over the time limits for abortion, which currently stand at 24 weeks. A bill to reduce the time to 21 weeks, and to provide for a cooling off period after a woman has decided to have an abortion, will be introduced into Parliament.

Abortion Rights objects to the proposal, saying the NHS already imposes an unacceptably long delay, causing many women to pay privately.

Abortion Rights also challenged the doctors’ letter. Its director, Anne Quesney, said: “On average one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, it is thus a clear exaggeration to say that all these women suffer long-term psychological trauma.”

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