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Abortion and subsequent depressive symptoms: an analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health

  • A. M. Gomez (a1)

Twenty states currently require that women seeking abortion be counseled on possible psychological responses, with six states stressing negative responses. The majority of research finds that women whose unwanted pregnancies end in abortion do not subsequently have adverse mental health outcomes; scant research examines this relationship for young women.


Four waves of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health were analyzed. Population-averaged lagged logistic and linear regression models were employed to test the relationship between pregnancy resolution outcome and subsequent depressive symptoms, adjusting for prior depressive symptoms, history of traumatic experiences, and sociodemographic covariates. Depressive symptoms were measured using a nine-item version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale. Analyses were conducted among two subsamples of women whose unwanted first pregnancies were resolved in either abortion or live birth: (1) 856 women with an unwanted first pregnancy between Waves 2 and 3; and (2) 438 women with an unwanted first pregnancy between Waves 3 and 4 (unweighted n’s).


In unadjusted and adjusted linear and logistic regression analyses for both subsamples, there was no association between having an abortion after an unwanted first pregnancy and subsequent depressive symptoms. In fully adjusted models, the most recent measure of prior depressive symptoms was consistently associated with subsequent depressive symptoms.


In a nationally representative, longitudinal dataset, there was no evidence that young women who had abortions were at increased risk of subsequent depressive symptoms compared with those who give birth after an unwanted first pregnancy.

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Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: A. M. Gomez, Ph.D., Sexual Health and Reproductive Equity (SHARE) Program, School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley, 120 Haviland Hall MC 7400, Berkeley, CA 94720-7400, USA. (Email:
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