The Elliot Institute News
From the Leader in Post-Abortion Research
Vol. 7, No. 4 -- March 19, 2008
UnChoice Campaign: TheUnChoice.com
IN THIS ISSUE:
British College of Psychiatrists Admits
Abortion Can Cause Mental Health Problems
Group Issues Call for Better Screening and Informed Consent
The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Great Britain has issued a statement saying that some women may suffer mental health problems after abortion and calling on health care providers to provide better screening and informed consent before women undergo an abortion.
The statement was issued in response to a request from the House of Commons for the Royal College to update its 1994 report on mental health and abortion. The new, one-page statement said that the College had undertaken a review of existing research and that a "full systematic review around abortion and mental health is required."
The statement goes on to say that while the question of how abortion impacts women has not yet been fully resolved, "mental disorders can occur for some women during pregnancy and after birth."
It also calls on health care providers to screen women for pre-existing mental health disorders and other known risk factors that could cause problems after abortion, although it does not call for doctors to refuse to do abortions in those cases. The statement also addresses the issue of informed consent by saying that the College "recognizes that good practice in relation to abortion will include informed consent."
"Consent cannot be informed without the provision of adequate and appropriate information regarding the possible risks and benefits to physical and mental health," the College stated.
At least one study in the U.S. has found that many women are not given adequate counseling or information to make a decision about abortion. A survey found that more than 83 percent or women having abortions said they did not receive adequate counseling before abortion, while 79 percent said they were not counseled on alternatives and 67 percent said they did receive any counseling.1
This is especially a concern in light of other data from the survey showing that more than 50 percent of the women were uncertain about undergoing an abortion and 64 percent said they felt pressured by others to abort. Further, a survey of women seeking health care services found that 95 percent said they wanted to be informed about all the risks of elective medical procedures such as abortion, and 69 percent said they wanted to be informed about all alternatives to a procedure.2
The new statement from the Royal College of Psychiatrists comes as Parliament is considering a measure to prohibit abortions for "social reasons" after 20 weeks gestation, instead of the 24 weeks. Abortions in Great Britain are supposed to be performed after 24 weeks only if there is a danger to the mother's physical or mental health.
Unfortunately, the leading mental health professional organizations in the U.S. have continued to deny or ignore evidence that abortion increases the risk of mental health problems among women, despite the publication of peer-reviewed studies linking abortion to increased rates of suicide, clinical depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders and other difficulties.
1. VM Rue et. al., “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women,” Medical Science Monitor 10:SR5-16, 2004.
2. PK Coleman, DC Reardon, MB Lee, “Women’s preferences for information and complication seriousness ratings related to elective medical procedures,” Journal of Medical Ethics, 32:435-438 (2006)
Abortion and Sleep Disorders
Sleep Disorders After Abortion May Be a Symptom of Trauma
Earlier this month, millions of Americans lost an hour of sleep when we moved our clocks ahead. This is not the only reason why some people may not be sleeping well. Stress, being too busy, caring for a family, health problems, and other factors may all serve to disrupt sleep and leave us tired and unable to function well the next day.
For many women, a sleep disorder may be the result of something deeper: abortion-related trauma. A 2006 study published in Sleep, the official journal of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, found that women who experienced abortion were more likely to be treated for sleep disorders or disturbances compared to women who gave birth.1
The researchers examined medical records for 56,284 low-income women in California who gave birth or underwent an abortion in the first six months of 1989. They excluded women who had been treated for sleep disturbances or disorders in the 12 to 18 months prior to abortion or delivery.
The data showed that, up to four years later, women who underwent abortions were more likely to be treated for sleep disorders afterwards compared to those who gave birth. The difference was greatest during the first 180 days after the end of the pregnancy, when aborting women were approximately twice as likely to seek treatment for sleep disorders. Significant differences between aborting and child-bearing women persisted for three years.
Sleep Disorders Linked to Trauma
More research is needed to to see if women who have abortions are more likely to experience specific symptoms of sleep disturbance and whether those symptoms could be markers for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other problems.
Numerous studies have shown that trauma victims will often experience sleep difficulties. The authors believe their findings support a growing understanding that some women may have traumatic reactions to abortion. In a 2004 study of American and Russian women who had abortions:
65% of American women reported multiple symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which they linked to their abortions,
Over 14% reported all the symptoms necessary for a clinical diagnosis of abortion-induced PTSD,
30% reported nightmares, and
23% reported sleeping disorders that they attributed to their abortions.2
In the book Forbidden Grief, author and therapist Dr. Theresa Burke notes that nightmares and insomnia a commonly reported among women after abortion. She writes: "When the conscious mind sleeps, the defense mechanisms in charge of repelling unwanted thoughts are relaxed. This is why intrusive thoughts related to a suppressed trauma often arise in the form of dreams or nightmares."3
Other studies have found that women with a history of abortion are subsequently at increased risk for depression, generalized anxiety disorder, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies, psychiatric hospitalization, and other problems.
This research points to a need for health care providers to regularly inquire about prior pregnancy loss, as identification of unresolved grief issues may improve treatment of sleep disorders, anxiety, and other psychiatric problems linked to abortion.
1. DC Reardon and PK Coleman, “Relative Treatment Rates for Sleep Disorders and Sleep Disturbances Following Abortion and Childbirth: A Prospective Record Based-Study,” Sleep 29(1):105-106, 2006.
2. VM Rue et. al., “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women,” Medical Science Monitor 10:SR5-16, 2004.
3. T. Burke with D. Reardon, Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 2007).
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