A Quick look at the effects of unintended pregnancies

I think it’s safe to assume that most women make the decision to terminate a pregnancy because the pregnancy was unintended. Some, of course, make the decision due to health concerns. Some of the reasons given for making the decision include:

  • Birth control (contraceptive) failure
  • Financial reasons,
  • Timing,
  • Partner related reasons,
  • Need to focus on other children
  • Inability to support or care for a child.
  • Pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.
  • Physical or mental conditions that endanger the woman’s health if the pregnancy is continued.
  • To prevent the birth of a child with birth defects or severe medical problems.

For many women, more than one of these reasons contribute to the decision, but ultimately, most are the result of an unintended pregnancy. The propaganda spread by anti-abortion campaigners on the potential negative effects of abortion, one of the factors they focus is the negative effects on the woman, particularly her mental health. As we know, they play fast and loose with the truth, with the goal of scaring and intimidating women.

These campaigners would never mention is consequences of an unintended pregnancy because that might upset their narrative. However, these consequences can have serious repercussions.

Women with unintended pregnancy are four times more likely to suffer from postpartum depression at twelve months postpartum, suggests a new study published today (8 May) in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina prenatal clinics questioned participants about pregnancy intention at 15-19 weeks gestational age, and women were classified as having an intended, mistimed or unwanted pregnancy. There were 433 women (64%) with an intended pregnancy, 207 (30%) with a mistimed pregnancy and 40 (6%) with an unwanted pregnancy. Unintended pregnancy was defined as both mistimed and unwanted pregnancies. Data were analysed for 688 women at three months and 550 women at twelve months.

Results show that postpartum depression was more likely in women with unintended pregnancies at both three months (11% vs. 5%) and twelve months (12% vs. 3%). The increased risk was highest at 12 months and indicates that this group of women have a long term risk of depression. When age, education level and poverty status were factored into the results, women with unintended pregnancy were still twice as likely to have postpartum depression at twelve months.

The authors conclude that unintended pregnancy may have a long term effect on maternal wellbeing and clinicians could consider pregnancy intention at antenatal visits and offer appropriate support both during and following the pregnancy.

Dr Rebecca Mercier, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of North Carolina and co-author of the research said:

“While many elements may contribute to postpartum depression, the results of this study show that unintended pregnancy resulting in live birth could also be a contributing factor.

“Unintended pregnancy carried to term may have a long term effect on women. Healthcare professionals should therefore consider asking about pregnancy at early antepartum visits to screen for unintended pregnancy as women who report that their pregnancy was unintended or unwanted may benefit from earlier or more targeted screening both during and following pregnancy.

“Simple, low-cost screening interventions to identify women at risk could allow targeted intervention when appropriate and could potentially prevent complications from future unintended pregnancies.”

Mike Marsh, BJOG Deputy Editor-in-chief said:

“Unintended pregnancy has been linked to poor prenatal care, high risk pregnancy behaviours, increased rates of preterm birth and low birth rate, poor social outcomes in childhood and increased medical costs.

“However, the relationship between unintended pregnancy and poor neonatal outcomes has been studied extensively, but less is known about the effect of unintended pregnancy carried to term on the woman herself. The findings of this study focus on the effects of unintended pregnancy on the mother and we can see a relationship between unintended pregnancy and postpartum depression.”

Without access to the entire paper, I cannot say whether the researchers included women who were actively prevented from having an abortion because of political or financial reasons. However, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that the mental health effects would more common and/or severe, but this is speculation on my part.

Just as important is a 2008 release from the American Psychological Association that can be summarized in one sentence:

“There is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women.”

Looking at the two together, it is obvious that abortion is actually an option with strong benefits for women who have unintended pregnancies.

It is important to recognize that abortion is a health issue for women and not something that should be subject to the vagaries of public opinion or pandering politicians.

Hat tip to  Amanda Marcotte at Reality Check.

 

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