Politically motivated research underestimates risk of suicide after abortion

Martha Shuping
June 8, 2018
Reproduced with Permission

A recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry online claims that abortion does not increase the risk of suicide. If only that were true. The study by M. Antonia Biggs and colleagues (May 24, 2018) used data from the University of California San Francisco's Turnaway Study. But the results are very questionable because they are inconsistent with many other studies, and the final results of this study are based on only 18% of the original sample.

The Turnaway Study was intended to provide a comparison between women who aborted and those unable to obtain an abortion due to waiting to come to the clinic until the pregnancy was too advanced (past the limits for the clinic chosen, or for their state). But only 38% of eligible women consented to participate in the research, with 15% of those dropping out before the first interview (Biggs et al., 2017). With further dropouts over the five years of the study, only 18% of the original sample remained - even though women received a $50 gift certificate for each telephone interview (Dobkin et al., 2014).

The low participation rate and the additional dropouts make the results questionable, because it is well known that the most distressed individuals are more likely to avoid participating. This has been reported in research on abortion and other reproductive losses, and in more general trauma research (Broen et al., 2005; Shuping, 2016, Weisaeth, 1989).

Biggs et al. (2018) concluded that rates of suicidal ideation were comparably low in women who obtained abortions and those who were refused abortions. The authors further conclude that their results show that state laws requiring informed consent about suicide risk should be scrapped as unnecessary. But we lack information on 82% of the women who either declined to participate or dropped out. The results may be meaningless if those women included those who were most distressed.

In addition, the new study by Biggs et al. (2018) contradicts a large body of research on suicide and abortion. A study from Finland published in the British Medical Journal linked medical records to death certificates, showing that women having abortions had a 650% increased risk of suicide compared to women who gave birth (Gissler et al., 1994).

One of the highest quality studies of abortion and mental health was done by Sullins (2016) using data from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health ("Add Health") which was funded by 18 different federal agencies and which provided a nationally representative sample of 8,005 women with 81% of the sample completing the 13-year study. In his analysis, Sullins controlled for 13 different potential confounders, and showed increased suicidal ideation in the women who had abortions compared to those who completed pregnancies. In addition, Sullins showed that women having abortions had increased risk for a total of seven different mental health outcomes. The results were statistically significant.

The study by Biggs et al. (2018) is an outlier, giving results that are very different from the results of a number of high quality studies of suicide risk and abortion. The truth is, we have the words of actual women who have attempted or completed suicide. The British artist Emma Beck said in her 2007 suicide note: "I told everyone I didn't want to do it, even at the hospital . . . now it is too late . . . I want to be with my babies." Biggs et al. show their political bias in their conclusion that women like Beck have no need to be warned about suicide risk before their abortion.


Posted with permission. This post was originally published by Family Research Council, June 8, 2018, at: http://www.frcblog.com/2018/06/politically-motivated-research-underestimates-risk-suicide-after-abortion/