Is there an “abortion trauma syndrome”? Critiquing the evidence

Robinson GE

Stotland NL

Russo NF

Lang JA

Occhiogrosso M

Harvard Review of Psychiatry
Aug 2009

Abstract

The objective of this review is to identify and illustrate methodological issues in studies used to support claims that induced abortion results in an "abortion trauma syndrome" or a psychiatric disorder. After identifying key methodological issues to consider when evaluating such research, we illustrate these issues by critically examining recent empirical studies that are widely cited in legislative and judicial testimony in support of the existence of adverse psychiatric sequelae of induced abortion. Recent studies that have been used to assert a causal connection between abortionand subsequent mental disorders are marked by methodological problems that include, but not limited to: poor sample and comparison group selection; inadequate conceptualization and control of relevant variables; poor quality and lack of clinical significance of outcome measures; inappropriateness of statistical analyses; and errors of interpretation, including misattribution of causal effects. By way of contrast, we review some recent major studies that avoid these methodological errors. The most consistent predictor of mental disorders after abortion remains preexisting disorders, which, in turn, are strongly associated with exposure to sexual abuse and intimate violence. Educating researchers, clinicians, and policymakers how to appropriately assess the methodological quality of research about abortion outcomes is crucial. Further, methodologically sound research is needed to evaluate not only psychological outcomes of abortion, but also the impact of existing legislation and the effects of social attitudes and behaviors on women who have abortions.