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No, Having An Abortion Does Not Lead To Depression, New Study Confirms

by Vanessa Taylor

Among the countless myths perpetuated about abortion, it's supposed link to mental illness has been amongst the most detrimental. Tackling these rumors, and any other false information being spread, helps make discussions about abortion and mental illness safer. And recently, a new study confirmed that having an abortion does not lead to depression.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, is the work of Dr. Julia R. Steinberg, from the University of Maryland School of Public Health, and colleagues. According to EurekAlert, researchers analyzed data on Danish women born between 1980 to 1994; at the end of the study, that amounted to nearly 400,000 women. A press release for the study published by EurekAlert outlined that the information on these women included abortions, childbirths, and antidepressant prescriptions as recorded by the Danish national Registries.

It was the first study that looked at the risk of antidepressant use around an abortion as proxy for depression, according to the press release via EurekAlert. And the conclusion? Researchers found that the risk of antidepressant use did not change from the year before to the year after an abortion. Additionally, the risk of antidepressant use decreased as more time after the abortion collapsed.

Given the stigma surrounding mental illnesses like depression, medications, and abortion, this study is incredibly important in helping people have access to medical care operating based on facts instead of rumors. And it couldn't have come at a better time.

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On May 25, Ireland's Eighth Amendment was voted to repeal by a wide margin. As reported by the BBC, voters were 66.4 percent in favor of the repeal to 33.6 percent opposed. The Eighth Amendment had been added to the country's laws in 1983, according to The Independent. During that time, The Independent noted, abortion was already illegal under the Offences against the Person Act of 1861. However, anti-abortion activists in 1983 feared that this could be changed and lobbied for a referendum. The result was the Eighth Amendment, which prohibited women from aborting pregnancies unless their lives are at risk — even in the cases of incest, rape, and fatal fetal abnormality, according to the BBC.

The 2010 case of Savita Halappanavar became a rallying cry for those voting YES. She was a 31-year-old Indian dentist who died from a septic miscarriage after being denied an abortion at Galway University Hospital, as reported by The Guardian.

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In the fight to repeal the Eighth Amendment, YES campaigners had to handle not just rhetoric within Ireland, but young Americans who traveled just to stop the vote, as CNN reported. In the United States, myths that abortion leads to depression and suicide have been long present, and even The Irish Times ran an article debunking those myths. Although the Americans CNN followed can't be blamed for the presence of that myth in Ireland, it does need to be noted how American anti-abortion movements travel with misinformation.

In the United States, policies that restrict access to abortion have been justified by claims that abortion causes women psychological harm, as noted by EurekAlert. Anti-abortion campaigners in the United States call it PAS (post abortion syndrome), a term coined by Dr. Vincent Rue, as Mother Jones reported. According to The Guardian, Rue testified before the U.S. Congress in 1981 that he observed post-traumatic stress syndrome in women who had undergone abortions. It was this testimony that gave way to the suggestion that abortion leads to depression and suicide.

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"Policies based on the notion that abortion harms women's mental health are misinformed," Dr. Steinberg said, according to the press release via EurekAlert. "Abortion is not causing depression. Our findings show that women were not more likely to suffer from depression after an abortion compared to beforehand."

The study found that, compared to women who did not have an abortion, those who did have one had a high risk of antidepressant use. But, according to the study's press release, Dr. Steinberg stressed the higher risk was the same for both the year before and the year after. This indicated that the high risk isn't due to the abortion itself, but a result of other factors like preexisting mental health conditions and any other adverse factor.

Currently, the Guttmacher Institute reports that at least eight states mandate women considering an abortion receive information emphasizing the purported negative psychological effects. The Guttmacher Institute's 2017 policy and trend map noted three states enacted new abortion counseling requirements. In Iowa, for example, women must seek counseling and wait 72 hours between the counseling session and the procedure.

Given the long reached of anti-abortion myths created in America, such as Rue's claim, and the rate at which reproductive health is put into risk under Trump's administration, this study could prove potentially life-saving for many women.