Abortion is, of course, a vjery controversial but relatively common means of fertity planning. A lot of research has been done on various aspects of it, such as mental health and medical consequences of abortions as compared to completed pregnancies. However, little research has been done on the consequences of completing an unwanted pregnancy for the resulting child. In the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, april 2011, there is a very interesting study on this topic.
The study compared mental health and developmental outcomes for children whose mothers were denied abortion to those born from accepted pregnancies. In Prague in the 1960s, abortion had to be approved by a local abortion commission, and, if denied, could be approved anyway by a regional commission. Unwantedness was defined for the purposes of this study as an abortion having been denied twice. This is a very strict definition of unwantedness, because, of course, not all unwantedly pregnant women go through the bureaucratic process of twice requesting abortion.
There were 220 unwanted pregnancy children found eligible for the study. Each was pair-matched to a child from an accepted pregnancy (mother’s name did not appear on the abortion record) similar in age, gender, birth order and school, while mothers were matched on age and socio-economic status. Children were followed up at age 9, 14-16, 21-23, 28-31 and 32-35. In addition, a substudy was done on married people at age 26-28.
Children born out of unwanted pregnancies had similar birth weights and lenghts, a similar chance of having congenital abnormalities, and a similar score on signs of minimal brain dysfunction (a condition most like current ADHD) to the accepted pregnancy children. At age 9, the two groups also scored similar on overall IQ. However, the unwanted pregnancy children, particularly boys or only children, were significantly less sociable and well-adjusted than the controls.
In adolescence and young adulthood, problems for the unwanted pregnancy group became more significant as compared to the controls. In adolescence, unwanted pregnancy children had dropped out of school more and had obtained lower scores in school (that is, much fewer scored above-average). Social problems also continued. In young adulthood, fewer unwanted pregnancy people were satisfied with their jobs, relationships and overall mental well-being than accepted pregnancy people. Mothers were also less satsified about their unwanted pregnancy children’s developmental and educational outcomes. More unwanted pregnancy children than accepted pregnancy children had been or were still in treatment for mental health conditions, and also more unwanted pregnancy children had been sent to prison.
By about age 30, there was still a difference in psychosocial adjustment between people born from unwanted pregnancies and accepted pregnancies. However, this gap had narrowed. By this follow up, women’s outcomes were less favorable as compared to controls than men’s. There was a significant difference between unwanted pregnancy women and control women in terms of unemployment, unmarried status, and parenting difficulties that requered authority attention, to the disfavor of the unwanted pregnancy women. Such a difference could not be found among men. Unwanted pregnancy women were also less socially integrated and emotionally stable than controls. These effects were due to unwantedness. This can be seen, because, by this stage in follow up, siblings were used as an additional comparison group, and they did not show these problems.
Lastly, by age 32-35, those unwanted pregnancy and accepted pregnancy people still living in Prague and their siblings were given an extensive face-to-face interview. Mental health outcomes were compared. People born from unwanted pregnancies had significantly more problems, as indicated by nine out of ten measures of mental health – ranging from inpatient treatment to sexual satisfaction – than their siblings. This difference was not found among the accepted pregnancy people. The unwanted pregnancy people were significantly more likely to have received inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment than the accepted pregnancy people. They were also significantly more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. By this age, however, poor social adjustment was not merely attributable to unwantedness, since siblings of unwanted pregnancy people also had poorer social outcomes than the accepted pregnancy controls’ siblings.
The substudy on married unwanted and accepted pregnancy people found some interesting things. In many ways, the female partners of unwanted pregnancy men and the male partners of unwanted pregnancy women were comparable to unwanted pregnancy women and men, respectively. Female partners of unwanted pregnancy males had more abortions (both one-time and repeat) and were more dissatisfied with their jobs and mental well-being than the famele partners of male controls. Similarly, male partners of female unwanted pregnancy people encountered more relationship difficulties than the male partners of control females. Lastly, unwanted pregnancy women who had at least one child, felt less prepared for and less happy about the pregnancy and parenthood than control females.
This study, the author concludes, shows that unwanted pregnancy and denial of abortion lays the foundation for an environment in which children are poorly reared, which subsequently leads to mental health and psychosocial problems for the unwanted child. An alternative hypothesis, whereby mothers of unwanted pregnancy children are simply emotionally unavailable mothers, is rejected.
The last wave of the Prague study was conducted in 1996/1997. The results of earlier waves of this study, in part, led the Czech government to abolish abortion commissions in 1986. The author of course advocates legal abortion and other means of fertlity regulation. It is interesting that this is argued from the point of view of the unwanted child, who is at significant risk of mental health and psychosocial problems if born. Of course, it remains to be debated, from an anti-abortion standpoint, whether these problems are worse than not to be born.
David HP (2011), Born Unwanted: Mental Health Costs and Consequences. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 81(2): 184-192. DOI: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2011.01087.x.