Associations between abortion, mental disorders, and suicidal behaviour in a nationally representative sample

Can J Psychiatry. 2010 Apr;55(4):239-47. doi: 10.1177/070674371005500407.


Objective: Most previous studies that have investigated the relation between abortion and mental illness have presented mixed findings. We examined the relation between abortion, mental disorders, and suicidality using a US nationally representative sample.

Methods: Data came from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (n = 3310 women, aged 18 years and older). The World Health Organization-Composite International Diagnostic Interview was used to assess mental disorders based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, criteria and lifetime abortion in women. Multiple logistic regression analyses were employed to examine associations between abortion and lifetime mood, anxiety, substance use, eating, and disruptive behaviour disorders, as well as suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. We calculated the percentage of respondents whose mental disorder came after the first abortion. The role of violence was also explored. Population attributable fractions were calculated for significant associations between abortion and mental disorders.

Results: After adjusting for sociodemographics, abortion was associated with an increased likelihood of several mental disorders--mood disorders (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] ranging from 1.75 to 1.91), anxiety disorders (AOR ranging from 1.87 to 1.91), substance use disorders (AOR ranging from 3.14 to 4.99), as well as suicidal ideation and suicide attempts (AOR ranging from 1.97 to 2.18). Adjusting for violence weakened some of these associations. For all disorders examined, less than one-half of women reported that their mental disorder had begun after the first abortion. Population attributable fractions ranged from 5.8% (suicidal ideation) to 24.7% (drug abuse).

Conclusions: Our study confirms a strong association between abortion and mental disorders. Possible mechanisms of this relation are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / psychology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders* / etiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*
  • United States
  • Violence
  • World Health Organization
  • Young Adult