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ss triple helix - winter 2007,  Psychological consequences of abortion

Psychological consequences of abortion

Time for the RCOG and RCPsych to review their guidance

Since 1967, more than six million abortions have been performed in Britain, over 95 percent on the grounds that abortion safeguards the mental health of women with unplanned pregnancies.

In a letter to the Times, [1] coinciding with the 39th anniversary of the Abortion Act on 27 October 2006, fifteen specialists in Psychiatry and Obstetrics and Gynaecology, including some CMF members, called upon both the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) to revise their guidance on the link between abortion and mental health. They quoted the strong evidence, recently reviewed in Triple Helix, [2] that women who choose abortion subsequently suffer from higher rates of depression, self-harm and psychiatric hospitalisation than those who carry their babies to term.

This evidence has recently been strengthened by the findings of a large longitudinal, methodologically robust study from New Zealand [3] which demonstrated that women who had abortions had twice the level of mental health problems and three times the risk of major depressive illness as those who had either given birth or never been pregnant. This research has set a new landmark, showing that even those without any past mental health problems are also at risk. As a consequence the American Psychological Association has withdrawn an official statement that denied a link between abortion and psychological harm. [4]

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists September 2004 guidance on abortion however, which predates this latest research, plays down a link between abortion and psychological harm:

Some studies suggest that rates of psychiatric illness or self-harm are higher among women who have had an abortion compared with women who give birth and to nonpregnant women of similar age. It must be borne in mind that these findings do not imply a causal association and may reflect continuation of pre-existing conditions. [5]

Similarly, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in a 1993 statement, which does not appear to have been subsequently revised, has stated:

The Royal College of Psychiatrists finds that the risks to psychological health from the termination of pregnancy in the first trimester are much less than the risks associated with proceeding with a pregnancy which is clearly harming the mother's mental health.There is no evidence in such cases of an increased risk of major psychiatric disorder or of long-lasting psychological distress. [6]

Women considering an abortion have a right to know that that there may be longterm adverse psychological effects. Both these sets of guidance from Royal Colleges appear to be out of step with the latest evidence and now require revision. Christian doctors have a key role to play in encouraging this.

  1. Risks of Abortion.,,8122-2423358,00.html
  2. Beer D. Psychological consequences after abortion. Triple Helix 2002; Autumn:5,6
  3. Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Ridder EM. Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2006 January; 47(1):16-24
  6. Psychiatric Indications for Abortion. London: RCPsych, 1994: 1 July
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