Pregnancy continuation and organizational religious activity following prenatal diagnosis of a lethal fetal defect are associated with improved psychological outcome

Prenat Diagn. 2015 Aug;35(8):761-768. doi: 10.1002/pd.4603. Epub 2015 May 26.


Objective: The aim of the article is to examine the psychological impact, specifically symptoms of grief, post-traumatic stress and depression, in women and men who either terminated or continued a pregnancy following prenatal diagnosis of a lethal fetal defect.

Method: This project investigated a diagnostically homogeneous group composed of 158 women and 109 men who lost a pregnancy to anencephaly, a lethal neural tube defect. Participants completed the Perinatal Grief Scale, Impact of Event Scale - Revised and Beck Depression Inventory-II, which measure symptoms of grief, post-traumatic stress and depression, respectively. Demographics, religiosity and pregnancy choices were also collected. Gender-specific analysis of variance was performed for instrument total scores and subscales.

Results: Women who terminated reported significantly more despair (p = 0.02), avoidance (p = 0.008) and depression (p = 0.04) than women who continued the pregnancy. Organizational religious activity was associated with a reduction in grief (Perinatal Grief Scale subscales) in both women (p = 0.02, p = 0.04 and p = 0.03) and men (p = 0.047).

Conclusion: There appears to be a psychological benefit to women to continue the pregnancy following a lethal fetal diagnosis. Following a lethal fetal diagnosis, the risks and benefits, including psychological effects, of termination and continuation of pregnancy should be discussed in detail with an effort to be as nondirective as possible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Eugenic / psychology*
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anencephaly / diagnosis*
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Death
  • Grief*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / psychology*
  • Religion*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology*
  • Young Adult