Stuff.co.nz 18 April 2013
New Zealand’s abortion laws should be changed to reflect the real reasons women decide to terminate unwanted pregnancies, Christchurch researchers say. New research from the University of Otago, Christchurch, suggests abortion does not reduce the mental health risks of unwanted pregnancy. Currently, abortion can only be performed legally in New Zealand if there is a risk to the mother’s physical or mental health or if the baby would have a serious disability.
About 98 per cent of abortions are performed on mental health grounds. The research, published in the latest Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, analysed recent reviews into mental health following abortion and found there was no direct evidence showing women who had an abortion were at lower risk of mental health problems than those who gave birth after having an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. It found a range of other factors associated with unwanted pregnancy though, including education, family finances, the needs of other children and relationships.
“These conclusions have important, if uncomfortable, implications for clinical practice and the interpretation of the law,” the review stated. “The history of abortion law and law reforms shows that this is likely to resurrect politically uncomfortable and socially divisive debates about access to legal abortion.”
The researchers suggested the “highly controversial nature” of the issue was probably the reason for the lack of discussion on the mental health benefits of abortion, but the “growing evidence … cannot be ignored indefinitely”.
“It is unacceptable for clinicians to authorise large numbers of abortions on grounds for which there is, currently, no scientific evidence,” they wrote.