Having an abortion does not increase the risk of mental health problems, but having a baby does, one of the largest studies to compare the aftermath of both decisions suggests.
The research by Danish scientists further debunks the notion that terminating a pregnancy can trigger mental illness and shows postpartum depression to be a greater factor.
Abortion in Denmark has been legal since 1973 -- the same year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, which established a right to abortion.
The Danish study included 365,550 teenagers and women who had an abortion or first-time delivery between 1995 and 2007. None had a history of psychiatric problems that required hospitalization. Through various national registries, researchers were able to track mental health counseling at a hospital or outpatient facility before and after an abortion or delivery.
During the study period, 84,620 had an abortion, while 280,930 gave birth.
Researchers compared the rate of mental health treatment among women before and after a first abortion. Within the first year after an abortion, 15 per 1,000 women needed psychiatric counseling -- similar to the rate seeking help nine months before an abortion.
While first-time mothers had a lower rate of mental problems overall, the proportion of those seeking help after giving birth was dramatically higher. About 7 per 1,000 women got mental health help within a year of giving birth compared with 4 per 1,000 women pre-delivery.
Results were published in today's New England Journal of Medicine. The study was funded by grants from the Danish Medical Research Council and the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which supports abortion rights organizations and projects.
The study did not examine why a pregnancy was terminated. Researchers also only studied mental problems serious enough to warrant admission to a hospital or outpatient clinic and did not look into the role of mild depression and other lesser symptoms.