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Keywords:

  • Abortion;
  • pregnancy;
  • mental disorder;
  • depression;
  • anxiety;
  • suicidal behaviour;
  • substance dependence

Background:  The extent to which abortion has harmful consequences for mental health remains controversial. We aimed to examine the linkages between having an abortion and mental health outcomes over the interval from age 15–25 years.

Methods:  Data were gathered as part of the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a 25-year longitudinal study of a birth cohort of New Zealand children. Information was obtained on: a) the history of pregnancy/abortion for female participants over the interval from 15–25 years; b) measures of DSM-IV mental disorders and suicidal behaviour over the intervals 15–18, 18–21 and 21–25 years; and c) childhood, family and related confounding factors.

Results:  Forty-one percent of women had become pregnant on at least one occasion prior to age 25, with 14.6% having an abortion. Those having an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance use disorders. This association persisted after adjustment for confounding factors.

Conclusions:  The findings suggest that abortion in young women may be associated with increased risks of mental health problems.