Abortion and Psychiatric Practice

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Abstract

The subject of abortion is fraught with politics, emotions, and misinformation. A widespread practice reaching far back in history, abortion is again in the news. Psychiatry sits at the intersection of the religious, ethical, psychological, sociological, medical, and legal facets of the abortion issue. Although the religions that forbid abortion are more prominent in the media, many religions have more liberal approaches. While the basic right to abortion has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, several limitations have been permitted, including parental notification or consent (with the possibility of judicial bypass) for minors, waiting periods, and mandatory provision of certain, sometimes biased, information. Before the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in 1973, many women were maimed or killed by illegal abortions, and psychiatrists were sometimes asked to certify that abortions were justified on psychiatric grounds. Currently, there are active attempts to convince the public and women considering abortion that abortion frequently has negative psychiatric consequences. This assertion is not borne out by the literature: the vast majority of women tolerate abortion without psychiatric sequelae. The psychiatric outcome of abortion is best when patients are able to make autonomous, supported decisions. Psychiatrists need to know the medical and psychiatric facts about abortion. Psychiatrists can then help patients prevent unwanted pregnancies, make informed decisions consonant with their own values and circumstances when they become pregnant, and find appropriate social and medical resources whatever their decisions may be.

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