NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Among women with an unwanted pregnancy, those who carry the pregnancy to term are more likely to experience later depression than those who terminate the pregnancy with an abortion, new study findings suggest.
Well-designed studies have generally shown that abortion does not contribute to an increased risk of depression, Dr. Sarah Schmiege and Dr. Nancy Felipe Russo note in their report in BMJ Online First, published October 28.
However, one previous study examining these associations among women with an unwanted first pregnancy found that induced abortion was associated with a higher risk of depression than a pregnancy carried to term.
But Schmiege, from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Russo, from Arizona State University in Tempe, believe this analysis was flawed.
For their study, they identified a large group of women ages 14 to 21 in 1979 who had an unwanted pregnancy between 1970 and 1992 and for whom personal and outcome data were available. The women were interviewed over several years to examine the relation between pregnancy outcome and later depression.
The authors found that terminating compared to delivering an unwanted first pregnancy was not directly related to risk of depression. Instead, women who delivered before 1980 had a much higher risk of depression than all other groups.
These findings "directly contradict the claim that terminating an unwanted first pregnancy puts women at higher risk of subsequent depression, particularly for younger women," Schmiege and Russo contend.
Their analysis also showed that women who had aborted a pregnancy had significantly higher mean education attainment and income and lower total family size. These factors could explain the higher risk of depression among women who don't abort an unwanted pregnancy.
"This suggests that if the goal is to reduce women's risk for depression, research should focus on how to prevent and ameliorate the effect of unwanted childbearing, particularly for younger women," the authors conclude.