Examining the association of abortion history and current mental health: A reanalysis of the National Comorbidity Survey using a common-risk-factors model  

Julia R. Steinberg, Lawrence B. Finer
SocSciMed   Jan 2011, vol 72(1) Pages 72-82

Abstract

Using the US National Comorbidity Survey (NCS), Coleman, Coyle, Shuping, and Rue (2009) published an analysis indicating that compared to women who had never had an abortion, women who had reported an abortion were at an increased risk of several anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders. Here, we show that those results are not replicable. That is, using the same data, sample, and codes as indicated by those authors, it is not possible to replicate the simple bivariate statistics testing the relationship of ever having had an abortion to each mental health disorder when no factors were controlled for in analyses (Table 2 in Coleman et al., 2009). Furthermore, among women with prior pregnancies in the NCS, we investigated whether having zero, one, or multiple abortions (abortion history) was associated with having a mood, anxiety, or substance use disorder at the time of the interview. In doing this, we tested two competing frameworks: the abortion-as-trauma versus the common-risk-factors approach. Our results support the latter framework. In the bivariate context when no other factors were included in models, abortion history was not related to having a mood disorder, but it was related to having an anxiety or substance use disorder. When prior mental health and violence experience were controlled in our models, no significant relation was found between abortion history and anxiety disorders. When these same risk factors and other background factors were controlled, women who had multiple abortions remained at an increased risk of having a substance use disorder compared to women who had no abortions, likely because we were unable to control for other risk factors associated with having an abortion and substance use. Policy, practice, and research should focus on assisting women at greatest risk of having unintended pregnancies and having poor mental health—those with violence in their lives and prior mental health problems.