Abortion is associated with less psychological distress compared to both adoption and unwanted births, study finds

Abortion is associated with less psychological distress compared to both adoption and unwanted births, study finds

Abortion is associated with less psychological distress compared to both adoption and unwanted births, study finds

New research from Women’s Mental Health Archives explores the psychological effects associated with different pregnancy outcomes. Study author Natsu Sasaki and her colleagues at the University of Tokyo compared four potential outcomes of pregnancy: wanted birth, abortion, adoption or unwanted birth. Of the four outcomes, unwanted birth and adoption had the highest scores in measuring mental distress.

Studies have shown that an unplanned or unintended pregnancy is associated with postnatal depression, as well as subsequent neglect, abuse and poor well-being of the baby. Research has also shown that unintended pregnancies that result in abortion or adoption can have their own mental health implications.

A new study compares the consequences of four different pregnancy outcomes with subsequent psychological distress. These findings could help doctors anticipate and take preventive measures to help women cope with the negative consequences of their birthing choices.

The study collected information from 7,162 women who reported an unintended pregnancy that was terminated or carried to term. Women with miscarriage or complications leading to termination of pregnancy were excluded from the study. Subjects were recruited through an online survey company, QON Inc. The average age of the participants was 39, and 18% of them had an unwanted pregnancy before the age of 20.

Of the 7,162 women, 3,971 reported wanting to have a child (wanted birth), 2,960 chose abortion, 130 chose adoption, and 101 reported giving birth but not wanting (unwanted birth).

Subjects were then assessed for mental distress using the Japanese version of the Kessler 6. The Kessler 6 rates “nervousness, hopelessness, restlessness or fidgeting, feelings of sadness, and the feeling that everything requires a lot of effort, which they have experienced in the last four weeks.”

The research team also collected data on demographic and situational variables such as education level, marital status and age during unintended pregnancy. They were also asked about social support during the period in question.

Mental stress scores were lowest in those who experienced a wanted birth (14%), followed by a slight increase in those who chose abortion (20.3%). Suffering increased again for those who decide to adopt (31.5%) and those who experience unwanted birth (30.7%). All scores were higher than in the control group who planned and wanted to become pregnant.

Demographically, a third of those who choose to have an abortion, adoption or unwanted birth were in their teens when the unintended pregnancy occurred. Most participants reported that the unintended pregnancy had less than a high school diploma, and most reported an economic situation ranging from “very bad” to “normal”. Less than 10% reported an economic situation that was “good” or “very good”.

The research team acknowledged several limitations in their research. First, they sent over a million survey invitations and only received 50,000 responses. As such, their data may not fully reflect the experience of an unintended pregnancy. Second, the study design was cross-sectional, which made it difficult to determine cause and effect.

The researchers believe these limitations should not mean disregarding the results. Understanding who is most at risk of stress after discovering an unwanted pregnancy could lead to better health care for women.

In addition, the study concludes with these thoughts: “This study found that among women who experienced an unintended pregnancy, the group of unwanted births and adoptions had worse long-term consequences of psychological stress. Abortion did not lead to negative psychological consequences. That is why it is important to ensure equal and safe abortion opportunities and greater support for women with unwanted births.”

The study “Long-Term Effects of Unintended Pregnancy on Mental Stress: A Retrospective Large-Sample Cross-sectional Study” was authored by Natsu Sasaki, Mari Ikeda, and Daisuke Nishi.

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