Letter to the Editor 7-8-22

Significant evidence is missing from the abortion debate

Dear Editor

What is generally ignored in the abortion debate is the quality of life for such babies, both short- and long-term, who were not wanted by their mothers yet were born. We are overdue to publicly examine this and related issues that supplement the usual perspectives about abortion.

Policies restricting abortions result in more women being unable to terminate unwanted pregnancies. This potentially keeps them in contact with violent partners, putting women and their children at additional risk for domestic violence both during the pregnancy and the years following the birth. Research also shows that abortion restrictions increase rates of child abuse and neglect.

Unintended pregnancy contributes to lack of prenatal care with consequences such as increased rate of delivery complications and birth defects. The woman is also less prepared for parenthood. In research that included 146 children who were born after the mother was unable to get a desired abortion, there was a higher rate of disrupted bonding between the child and the mother. They also often lived in households with low incomes and insufficient money to pay for basic living expenses. According to the conclusion, “These findings suggest that access to abortion enables women to choose to have children at a time when they have more financial and emotional resources to devote to their children.”

In other research unintended pregnancy resulted in higher maternal depressive symptoms and more parent-child conflict. If the baby is adopted, there may be later mental health challenges. Mental health facilities have disproportionately higher rates of adopted children.

The emotional bond connecting the infant and mother is called attachment. The value of attachment has been well-established in the psychological literature for decades. We are born needing to be close to our mothers and nourished by them. When the mother is available, sensitive, and responsive to the infant’s needs, attachment quality is high. This is called secure attachment.

Decades of studies show that secure attachment contributes in many ways to the child’s mental, physical, and social development. The infant-mother relationship is a model for peer relationships. Research demonstrates that securely attached infants are more capable as toddlers and preschoolers. The child’s empathy is also connected with the quality of the relationship with the mother.

The higher rate of disrupted bonding between the infant and mother connected with unwanted pregnancy and abortion restriction means there is more insecure attachment. When the needs of infants are not satisfied, they experience distress that adversely affects mental and social development. At age two, they typically lack self-reliance and problem-solving ability. At ages three and a half to five, they have behavioral problems including poor relations with their peers.

Extensive research concludes that insecure attachment is associated with later mental disorders including low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, anxiety, and anger. Other potential outcomes are limited expression of emotions, avoidance of social contact, and potential violence.

The long-term effects of insecure attachment connected with abortion restriction have not received the widespread attention they deserve. 

Ronald Goldman, PhD

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