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Suicide risk does not increase after an abortion: Research

45352241 - court legal concept of abortion law, Copyright: kagenmi / 123RF Stock Photo. Several cases are provoking debate around India's abortion law - and whether it's time for changeThe notion that undergoing an abortion increases a woman’s suicide risk is not supported by evidence, according to recent research. 

A study published in The Lancet examined data of 523,380 Danish women between the ages of eighteen and 36, finding that whilst women who undergo an abortion have a higher risk of first-time non-fatal suicide attempts, to attribute this to abortion is misplaced and so to use it as a basis for policies related to abortion – as is done in quarters of the United States – are unfounded. “Of the women [surveyed], 48,990 (9.4 percent) women had a record of at least one first-trimester abortion, and 10,216 (two percent) had a suicide attempt during the study period,” the study said. 

“In our fully-adjusted model which adjusted for all covariates, the risk of first-time non-fatal suicide attempts was similar in the year before an abortion…and the year after an abortion…compared with women who had not had an abortion, and decreased with increasing time since the abortion,” the study added. 

Interpreting the results, the study states “we found that women who had abortions had a higher risk of non-fatal suicide attempts compared with women who did not have an abortion. However, because the increased risk was the same both the year before and after the abortion, it is not attributable to the abortion. Thus, policies based on the notion that abortion increases women’s risk of suicide attempts are misinformed.” 

“Our study speaks to suicidal attempts (one aspect of suicidal ideation) but not completed suicides,” Dr Julia R. Steinberg from the University of Maryland, College Park, USA told Health Issues India. “States in the US that require women be told abortion increases their risk of suicidal ideation or other mental health outcomes or that inform women that having an abortion (may) increases their risk of suicidal ideation or other mental health outcomes are not evidence-based according to our findings (and other published findings with these data and other data). 

“There are twelve such states that do this according to a recent publication of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medication (attached). Such policies attribute the increased risk to the abortion and that is incorrect according to our findings and other findings.” 

There is significant stigma surrounding abortion at the global level. The purported link between abortion and suicide “has been used to discourage women from having abortions” as previous research points out. As the Lancet study’s researchers point out, is used to inform abortion policies in parts of the world. 

In India, stigma shrouds abortion. This, combined with a lack of infrastructure, can result in many women being pushed into availing backdoor abortions, with unsafe abortions killing thirteen women every day. Such abortions account for 56 percent of such procedures in India. Research addressing misconceptions surrounding abortion, such as baseless assertions of a link with abortion, is vitally needed in order to counteract such stigma and to ensure women can make an informed decision without misinformation impeding them.

“The association between first abortion and first-time non-fatal suicide attempt: a longitudinal cohort study of Danish population registries” can be accessed here.

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