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SAGE Open Med. 2018 Oct 29;6:2050312118807624. doi: 10.1177/2050312118807624. eCollection 2018.

The abortion and mental health controversy: A comprehensive literature review of common ground agreements, disagreements, actionable recommendations, and research opportunities.

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Elliot Institute, Springfield, IL, USA.


The abortion and mental health controversy is driven by two different perspectives regarding how best to interpret accepted facts. When interpreting the data, abortion and mental health proponents are inclined to emphasize risks associated with abortion, whereas abortion and mental health minimalists emphasize pre-existing risk factors as the primary explanation for the correlations with more negative outcomes. Still, both sides agree that (a) abortion is consistently associated with elevated rates of mental illness compared to women without a history of abortion; (b) the abortion experience directly contributes to mental health problems for at least some women; (c) there are risk factors, such as pre-existing mental illness, that identify women at greatest risk of mental health problems after an abortion; and (d) it is impossible to conduct research in this field in a manner that can definitively identify the extent to which any mental illnesses following abortion can be reliably attributed to abortion in and of itself. The areas of disagreement, which are more nuanced, are addressed at length. Obstacles in the way of research and further consensus include (a) multiple pathways for abortion and mental health risks, (b) concurrent positive and negative reactions, (c) indeterminate time frames and degrees of reactions, (d) poorly defined terms, (e) multiple factors of causation, and (f) inherent preconceptions based on ideology and disproportionate exposure to different types of women. Recommendations for collaboration include (a) mixed research teams, (b) co-design of national longitudinal prospective studies accessible to any researcher, (c) better adherence to data sharing and re-analysis standards, and (d) attention to a broader list of research questions.


Abortion mental health; abortion; ambiguous loss; bereavement; complicated grief; post-abortion trauma; post-traumatic stress disorder; pregnancy loss; reproductive health; research bias

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Declaration of conflicting interests: The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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