Abortion and trauma

A controversial new study claims that abortion causes more mental trauma than miscarriage does.

By Rebecca Traister
Published December 12, 2005 6:05PM (EST)

There's a new study being reported in Europe that should get us all talking. Researchers from the University of Oslo in Norway compared 40 women who had miscarriages with 80 who had abortions and found that while miscarriage was associated with "more mental distress in the six months after the loss of a baby," abortion "had a much longer lasting negative effect," including residual feelings of guilt and anxiety.

This is one of those studies that are hard to process. It's certainly important that we take seriously the distress some women suffer after the termination of a pregnancy, through either miscarriage or abortion. But studies like this get easily manipulated by antichoice groups anxious to demonstrate that women naturally feel guilt and emotional trauma about getting an abortion, when in fact what they may feel is sadness, relief or nothing at all.

In an article about the study on the BBC the wrassling has already begun. The researchers claim that their findings are merely intended to help women get the conseling and care they may need. But Annie Pringle from antichoice group Life, tells the BBC that "this confirms years of experience with women who come to us for counseling after abortion ... The emotional suffering can be massive."

And a spokeswoman for British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the U.K.'s leading abortion provider, said that most women weighed consequences before reaching their choice on termination. "We don't see that many women for post-abortion counseling," the spokeswoman told the BBC. "We offer that service but women very rarely come back because they are able to cope with it by themselves."

Just out of curiosity: Has anyone ever done a study on the long-lasting suffering, anxiety, emotional trauma and guilt felt by women who were forced to bring children whom they did not want or could not afford to have into the world?

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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