Five-year suicidal ideation trajectories among women receiving or being denied an abortion

Biggs MA

Gould H

Barar RE

Foster DG

May 2018
Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the effects of receiving compared with being denied an abortion on women’s experiences of suicidal ideation over 5 years.   Method: The authors recruited 956 women from 30 U.S. abortion facilities. Women were interviewed by telephone 1 week after their abortion visit, then every 6 months for 5 years. Women who received near-limit abortions were compared with women who were denied an abortion and carried their pregnancies to term (turnaway-birth group). Women completed the suicidal ideation items on the Brief Symptom Interview (BSI) and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). The Sheehan Suicidality Tracking Scale was used to assess imminent suicidality. Adjusted mixed-effects regression analyses accounting for clustering by site and individual were used to assess whether levels and trajectories of suicidality differed by group.   Results: One week after abortion seeking, 1.9% of the near-limit group and 1.3% of the turnaway-birth group reported any suicidal ideation symptoms on the BSI. Over the 5-year study period, the proportion of women with any suicidal ideation symptoms on the BSI declined significantly to 0.25% for women in the near-limit group and nonsignificantly to 0.21% for those in the turnaway-birth group. In four out of 7,247 observations (0.06%), women reported being imminently suicidal. There was no statistically significant differential loss to follow-up by baseline report of suicidal ideation or history of depression or anxiety. There were no statistically significant group differences on any suicidal ideation outcome over the 5-year study period.   Conclusions: Levels of suicidal ideation were similarly low between women who had abortions and women who were denied abortions. Policies requiring that women be warned that they are at increased risk of becoming suicidal if they choose abortion are not evidence based.