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Abortion and its Health Effects
By Henry P. David and Ellie Lee

Henry P. David, Transnational Family Research Institute, US and Ellie Lee, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Southampton, UK

In Worrell, J. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Women and Gender, Volume One San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2001, 1-14

This article, published in the Encyclopedia of Women and Gender, presents a summary of up-to-date research from the US and the UK on the health effects of abortion. Risks to physical health are covered briefly, and risks to mental health in more detail. Discussion of 'risks to mental health' is given more space because 'psychological responses are the most difficult to assess and evaluate'.

Opponents of legal of abortion claim that abortion is not a safe medical procedure because it can lead to a psychiatric condition, described as 'post-abortion syndrome' (PAS). The development of this claim is discussed, followed by a review of psychological effects prepared by an expert committee convened by the American Psychological Association. It was found that the period of greatest psychological stress occurs immediately before the abortion decision is made and that 'legal abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in the first trimester does not pose a severe psychological hazard for the vast majority of women'. The article also reviews European studies about the relationship between abortion and mental health, and factors contributing to rare negative reactions to abortion.

Following the discussion of mental health effects, summaries are provided of research about the health effects of abortion on adolescents, barriers to abortion, comparison of medical and surgical abortion, effects of denied abortion on children born unwanted, and the system of abortion provision in the Netherlands.

All of these issues are presented in the context of a discussion at the start of the article of reproductive decision-making, contraceptive effectiveness and practice, reasons for ending an unplanned pregnancy, and emergency contraception.

The Encyclopedia of Women and Gender can be ordered on-line
www.academicpress.com or www.harcourt-international.com

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