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Danish study rejects link between abortion and suicide

by Molly Millar | @mollyamillar | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 19 November 2019 23:30 GMT

Pro-choice demonstrators protest against anti-abortion demonstrators who are taking part in the March For Life event in London, Britain, May 11, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

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Suicide attempts are mostly closely associated with having previous contact with psychiatric services or use of medication to treat depression, anxiety or psychosis

By Molly Millar

LONDON, Nov 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Having an abortion does not increase women's risk of suicide, a study in The Lancet Psychiatry found on Tuesday, amid growing global debate about liberalising laws that ban the procedure.

The first comprehensive study into the link between abortion and attempted suicide - based on data from 520,000 Danish women over 17 years - found pre-existing mental health problems were the strongest risk factor for women trying to end their lives.

"The view that having an abortion leads to suicidal thoughts, plans, or even suicide attempts has been used to inform abortion policies in some regions of the world," said lead author Julia R. Steinberg from the University of Maryland.

"The evidence from our study does not support this notion."

Despite a flurry of restrictions passed by U.S. states, the global trend is towards liberalisation. Six in 10 women of reproductive age live in countries that broadly allow abortion, the Center for Reproductive Rights advocacy group says.

Argentina is the latest to consider changing its law as centre-left President-elect Alberto Fernandez - who has described reproductive rights as a public health issue - readies to take office on Dec. 10.

Researchers found that among women who had a first-trimester abortion, 8.9 in 1,000 made a non-fatal suicide attempt in the year before the procedure, while 8.6 per 1,000 did in the year directly after.

The authors said the similarities in the rate indicated that the suicide attempts could not be attributed to the abortion.

Five or more years after an abortion, 2.2 in 1,000 women attempted suicide, a marginally higher rate than the 2 per 1,000 women who did not have an abortion who tried to kill themselves.

Suicide attempts were mostly closely associated with having previous contact with psychiatric services or use of medication to treat depression, anxiety or psychosis, the study found.

(Reporting by Molly Millar; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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