SPRINGFIELD, Il., October 24, 2005 ( – A new study published in the medical journal Acta Paediatrica has found that women who have had an abortion are 2.4 times more likely to physically abuse their children.

The study, led by Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University, looked at data taken from a survey of 518 low-income women in Baltimore who were receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children and who had at least one child aged 12 years or younger. The data compared rates of child abuse and neglect among women who had experienced either an involuntary (miscarriage or stillbirth) or voluntary (induced abortion) pregnancy loss.

The results showed that women with a history of one induced abortion were 2.4 times more likely to physically abuse their children than women who had not had an abortion. In addition, the increase in risk among women who had experienced an abortion was more significant than the increase among women who had experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth.

The authors suggested that “emotional difficulties and unresolved grief responses” from pregnancy loss, whether voluntary or involuntary, could have a negative impact on women’s mental health and lead to unhealthy parenting responses. Past studies have linked pregnancy loss to an increase in grief reactions, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which can have a negative impact on parent/child relationships.

In addition, induced abortion has been linked to an increased risk of substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, and a 2002 study published in the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology found that children whose mothers had a history of abortion tended to have less supportive home environments and more behavioral difficulties.

The current study showed that although a single involuntary pregnancy loss did not significantly increase the risk of child abuse or neglect, physical abuse was more common among women who had experienced multiple involuntary pregnancy losses. However, women who had repeat abortions were not more likely to abuse their children than women who had one abortion, although abortion increased the risk of physical abuse overall.

In addition, neither form of pregnancy loss was linked to child neglect, leading the authors to speculate that mothers with unresolved losses may be able to “go through the motions” of meeting their children’s basic needs but have difficulty coping with issues such as anger or parent/child conflict.

“Regardless of the specific mechanisms at play, maternal history of one induced abortion does appear to be a marker for increased risk of physical abuse,” the authors wrote.

They also noted that while emotional difficulties related to miscarriage or stillbirth are usually resolved within a few years, women who have abortions are often not given an opportunity to resolve feelings of grief or other related emotions. According to Elliot Institute director Dr. David Reardon, who has worked on more than a dozen published studies documenting abortion’s negative impact on women, many women either feel a need to keep the abortion a secret or are told to simply “move on” when they try to discuss their pain.

Reardon said that greater attention needs to be focused on the long-term effects of abortion on women and their families.

“The common perception seems to be that abortion solves the immediate problem of a crisis pregnancy and that therefore it must be a positive thing for women,” he said. “However, more and more studies such as this one show that abortion can have a severe and lasting impact on women’s lives, shaping their futures and the futures of their families for years to come.”

The current study is one of the first to compare rates of child abuse among women who had experienced an involuntary pregnancy loss as opposed to those who experienced a voluntary loss. However, the authors noted that the findings were limited by the size of the study and called for more research to be done using larger groups of women.

“In the event that such a large scale effort yields robust findings consistent with those described … more efforts should be directed toward helping women restore their emotional health following abortion,” the authors wrote. “Investment in such programs is likely to improve the quality of their lives and increase the likelihood that their future families will be violence free.”

  Study Citation: Priscilla K. Coleman, Charles D. Maxey, Vincent M. Rue, and Catherine T. Coyle, Associations between voluntary and involuntary forms of pregnancy loss and child maltreatment among low-income mothers, Acta Paediatrica 94, 2005.

See the Study online: