Depression associated with abortion and childbirth: a long-term analysis of the NLSY cohort

Med Sci Monit. 2003 Apr;9(4):CR105-12.


Background: Existing research pertaining to emotional reactions to abortion is limited by (a) short follow up periods, (b) the absence of information on prior psychological state, and (c) lack of nationally representative samples. Therefore the purpose of this study was to compare women with a history of abortion vs. delivery relative to depression using a nationally representative longitudinal design, which enabled inclusion of a control for prior psychological state.

Material/methods: The current study employed data for all women from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) who experienced their first pregnancy event (abortion or childbirth) between 1980 and 1992 (n=1,884). Depression scores in 1992, an average of 8 years after the subjects' first pregnancy events, were compared after controlling for age, race, marital status, divorce history, education, income, and external locus of control scores. The latter was used to control for pre-pregnancy psychological state. Results were also examined separately for groups based on race, marital status, and divorce history.

Results: After controlling for several socio-demographic factors, women whose first pregnancies ended in abortion were 65% more likely to score in the 'high-risk' range for clinical depression than women whose first pregnancies resulted in a birth. Differences were greatest among the demographic groups most likely to report an abortion.

Conclusions: Abortion may be a risk factor for subsequent depression in the period of 8 years after the pregnancy event. The higher rates of depression identified may be due to delayed reactions, persistence of depression, or some other common risk factor.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / psychology*
  • Adult
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Divorce / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Marriage / statistics & numerical data
  • Odds Ratio
  • Parturition / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Whites / statistics & numerical data