Abortion Doesn't Make Teens Depressed

What Women Really Think
Sept. 28 2010 10:32 AM

Abortion Doesn't Make Teens Depressed

The pro-life movement has put a lot of energy into arguing that abortion harms women. The first wave of this effort claimed a link between abortion and breast cancer. When scientists definitively shot that down, the pro-lifers shifted to arguing that abortion-and regret about it afterward-connects to higher rates of depression and suicide. This is the fabled "post abortion syndrome." I wrote about women who believe in it in 2007. The next year, the American Psychological Association issued a report, based on an exhaustive review of all the medical literature published on the topic since 1989, which found no credible evidence that abortion leads to higher rates of mental health problems for women. But the APA couldn’t speak with certainty about teenagers, because there wasn’t enough research.

A new study in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health helps fill in that gap. It used data from an ongoing, nationally representative survey of teenagers. The authors compared 220 girls who said they’d been pregnant and hadn't had an abortion to 69 who had. The key finding is this: "The young women in this study who had an abortion were not more likely to become depressed or have low self-esteem within the year of the pregnancy or five yars later than were their peers whose pregnancies did not end in abortion." Abortion is a fraught event for many teens, no doubt. But this study is good evidence that it’s one they bounce back from.

Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and the Truman Capote Fellow at Yale Law School. She is the author of Sticks and Stones.