As Ireland heads to the polls to vote on whether to repeal the country's strict abortion laws, and the US deals with the return to a pro-life administration, a new study has found that a myth often cited by anti-abortion campaigners has no basis in fact.
A common myth surrounding abortion is that it increases the risk of suicidal thoughts in women who have one. In South Dakota, doctors are legally required to advise women that they will face an increased risk of suicide after the procedure has been performed. Dozens of states have similar laws, ThinkProgress reports.
Pro-life campaigners spread this information around regularly, even though it is highly questionable.
Now a five-year study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry has investigated whether the link holds.
The team, from Researchers with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California, studied 956 women from 30 US abortion facilities. Of these women, 231 women were turned away from the facilities, 273 women had abortions in their first trimester, and 452 women had an abortion further down the line in their pregnancy.
All were contacted a week after their abortion center visit, and then every six months for the next five years. During these sessions, they were asked to complete a patient health questionnaire that assessed their suicide ideation (suicidal thoughts). This allowed the researchers to be able to directly compare the data on suicidal thoughts between women who had an abortion and those who sought one but were turned away.
Previous studies have only compared women who have tried to have abortions with women who have never sought one, leading to a potentially problematic selection bias.
One week after seeking an abortion, 1.9 percent of the women who sought an abortion during later stages of their pregnancy (but still within state limits) reported suicidal ideation, compared to 1.3 percent of people who were turned away. This is not significantly higher than the percentage of the general public in the US who experience suicidal thoughts.
Over the five years, the study showed that suicidal ideation dropped significantly, and by the end of that period there was no significant difference between the two groups (0.25 perhaps in women who had abortions late, 0.21 percent in women who were turned away).
They concluded there isn't enough evidence for laws that require women to be told their suicide risk may increase.
"Levels of suicidal ideation were similarly low between women who had abortions and women who were denied abortions," the authors write in the study.
"Policies requiring that women be warned that they are at increased risk of becoming suicidal if they choose abortion are not evidence-based."
“I think that there is a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of myths about abortion and efforts to dissuade women from abortion and restrict their right to an abortion,” Dr Antonia Biggs, lead author of the study told Motherboard. “I would hope that this paper would help to inform evidence-based policies.”