The following is the full text of our proposal on abortion law reform, and associated background information, in the latest draft of our public consultation document.
The Abortion Act (1967) should be amended to remove the right to have elective abortions on the grounds of increased risk of injury to mental health if the pregnancy isn’t terminated. There’s no evidence to support the claim that abortion reduces the risk of injury to mental health. These grounds have been misused to offer women ‘abortion on demand’, which wasn’t the stated intention of the Act when it was introduced.
There’s a growing awareness that 97% of the abortions carried out in England, Wales, and Scotland, are being carried out on grounds which may be illegal. The Abortion Act (1967) permits elective abortions to be performed on numerous grounds, when authorised by two medical practitioners. One of the grounds is to reduce the risk of injury to the mental health of women.
However, there is no evidence to support the thesis that abortion reduces the risk to mental health of women with an unwanted pregnancy, and some evidence to suggest that abortion increases the risk to mental health, so medical practitioners who authorise abortions on mental health risk grounds are doing so in the knowledge that there’s no body of research to support their authorisations.
It’s estimated that by the time of the 2015 general election, approximately 8.2 million elective abortions will have been performed under the terms of the Abortion Act (1967) – more than the current combined populations of Scotland and Wales, or London.
In 2012, in England and Wales, 185,122 abortions were carried out on women residing in the two countries.39 180,117 of them (97%) were carried out under grounds ‘C’ of the Abortion Act, ‘the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(a)).’
Of the 180,117 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2012 under these grounds, 180,008 (99.94%) were carried out on the grounds of reducing the risk of injury to the women’s mental health.
There is no evidence to support the thesis that abortion reduces the risk of injury to the mental health of women with unwanted pregnancies. In December 2011 The National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health published a 252 page report for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, ‘Induced Abortion and Mental Health: a systematic review of the mental health outcomes of induced abortion, including their prevalence and associated factors’.40
Among the key findings of the report (p.8) was:
The rate of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth.
In April 2013 the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry published a report, ‘Does abortion reduce the mental health risks of unwanted or unplanned pregnancy? A re-appraisal of the evidence’.41
The full conclusion of the report was:
There is no available evidence to suggest that abortion has therapeutic effects in reducing the mental health risks of unwanted or unintended pregnancy. There is suggestive evidence that abortion may be associated with small to moderate increases in risks of anxiety, alcohol misuse, illicit drug use, and suicidal behaviour.