Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

Relationship between Induced Abortion and Child Abuse and Neglect: Four Studies

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

Relationship between Induced Abortion and Child Abuse and Neglect: Four Studies

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Four studies designed to investigate any association between induced abortion and child abuse found a number of positive correlations. These findings appear to run counter to popular opinion and some professional declarations that making abortion freely available would terminate unwanted children and thus lower the incidence of child mistreatment. There is no evidence that the incidence of child abuse has declined with more readily available abortion. We found unwanted children were not more often abused, but that women who had previous pregnancy losses were more likely to abuse or neglect their children. There are a number of possible explanations for this, but the one which most closely fits the data is that pregnancy losses, particularly abortion, tend to make a woman more anxious during a subsequent pregnancy, and more depressed after the child is born. The anxiety and depression interfere with the parentinfant bonding process, thus leaving a child more exposed to periods when the parents are unconcerned about his/her needs or are enraged by irritating behavior. Mothers who physically or verbally abuse their children tend to react with anger to the infant's cry. Those who neglect their children tend to react with anxiety or feelings of helplessness. We also found that women not supported by their partners are more likely to miscarry or terminate a pregnancy. Lack of support by husbands and lack of breast-feeding also appear to contribute to abuse and neglect. It is possible that husbands are less supportive because they fear that their infants might be aborted and they are powerless to stop it.


Some authorities (Calef, 1972; Dennis, 1976; Greenland, 1973) have contended that every child should be a wanted child, partly because of a belief that unwanted children are more likely to be abused and neglected. The thought was that elective abortion of unwanted children would help prevent child mistreatment. Now that western society provides effective contraceptives and abortion on request, nearly every child is "wanted." Remarkably few studies have been found that compare the incidence of child abuse and neglect today to earlier periods. However, although there appears to be some dispute as to whether or not there is an increase in the incidence of mistreatment or an improvement in reporting, it seems to be that the former is the case. Knudson (1988) of Purdue University studied the reports to a childprotection agency over a 20-year period, and concluded that the growth in reports reflects a genuine increase in abusive and neglectful behaviour. This corroborates earlier findings that child mistreatment has increased (Fontana and Bersharov, 1977; Kempe and Heifer, 1972; Bergstrand et al., 1979). These findings have necessitated a reevaluation of the hypothesis that abortion prevents child abuse. We are investigating an alternative hypothesis: that readily available abortion is contributing to an increase in child abuse and neglect.


There appears to be an association between the rates of child abuse and abortion (Ney, 1979). Canadian provinces that have high rates of abortion also have high rates of child abuse. The rates have increased parallel to each other. In British Columbia the rates of death of children and adolescents from social causes seem to have increased shortly after the change in legislation liberalizing abortion (Tonkin, 1979). Although this association may be due to common causes such as socioeconomic conditions or social attitudes towards children, it is clear that there is no evidence that there has been a diminution in the rate of abuse.

The central issues for the medical profession with respect to physician-induced abortion are: "Is it therapeutic?", i.e., is it effective in treating some disease or disorder? and "Is it safe?", i.e., does it do more good than harm? Although there have been many attempts to demonstrate that abortion is safe, there has been almost no research done to determine its effectiveness in treating medical, psychological, or social illnesses. …

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