Abortion can harm mental health, say psychiatrists

The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that having an abortion can damage a woman’s mental health and women should be told the risks before proceeding.

This represents a significant shift in policy for the RCP. In 1994 it said that the mental health risks associated with abortion were far less than those incurred when an unwanted pregnancy was carried to term.

But following a review of recent evidence, the RCP has changed its view. It now calls for doctors who assess women for abortion to assess for mental disorder and for risk factors that may be associated with its subsequent development.

It also recommends that women considering an abortion should be given leaflets warning them of the associated mental health risks.

This news will increase pressure on the Government to tighten current abortion rules. Critics of the rules say that women are rarely given balanced evidence-based information independent of abortion services.

In a statement, the RCP said: “Consent cannot be informed without the provision of adequate and appropriate information regarding the possible risks and benefits to physical and mental health.”

In February an inquest was held into the death a woman in Cornwall who had aborted twins. Emma Beck, who was 30 when she died, wrote that “Living is hell for me. I should never have had an abortion. I see now I would have been a good mum. I told everyone I didn’t want to do it, even at the hospital. I was frightened, now it is too late. I died when my babies died.”

Miss Beck’s mother had written to the hospital where the abortion took place: “I want to know why she was not given the opportunity to see a counsellor.” However, the coroner, recording a verdict of suicide, was satisfied that the doctors had acted within rules.

MPs will soon have the chance to propose changes to the law on abortion as an embryos Bill makes its way through the Commons.

Related Resources