The Elliot Institute News  
From the Leader in Post-Abortion Research
Vol. 9, No. 4 -- March 25, 2010


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Abortion and Substance Abuse:
What the Research Says


April is national Alcohol Awareness Month, an event dedicated to raising awareness of the devastating effects of alcohol abuse and encouraging those effected to seek help and treatment.

Research shows that women are likely to date the onset of alcohol or drug abuse to a particular stressful event or situation in their lives. For some women, this stressful event may be an abortion.

For example, Monica underwent an abortion at 18. She writes:

... [T]he aftermath affected almost every area of my life. I think alcohol and drug abuse were at the top of the list, but also there were nightmares, uncontrollable fear to the point of a panic disorder, and a deep sadness, the source of which I couldn’t identify or understand.

I frequently thought about killing myself. I had anger and rage, sexual problems, low self-esteem, incredible self-hatred and a depression that came and went like an unexpected wind. But most of all, grief that chilled me to the bone. My grief turned on me like a hungry lion waiting to destroy every area of my life. Drinking and drugs were the only way I could cope.


For many women, using drugs or alcohol after abortion might be a way to cope with a traumatic situation. Writing in Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, Rachel's Vineyard founder Dr. Theresa Burke notes:


The human mind has a tremendous capacity to repress undesirable feelings and re-channel them into more tolerable tortures. If we cannot find a way to work through the trauma with our conscious intellect, our unconscious mind will accomplish the task for us. Trying to cope with these shattered phantoms may invite the abuse of alcohol or drugs, and a vicious, unrelenting cycle of self-destruction, heaping insult on top of injury until awareness of the original problem has been annihilated.


What the Research Says

So far, more than 20 studies have found a strong association between substance abuse and abortion. Among the findings:

  • One study found that among women without a prior history of substance abuse, women who aborted their first pregnancy had a 4.5 times higher risk of subsequent substance abuse compared to women who carried their first pregnancy to term.1

  • Another study found that women who had undergone an abortion were over three times more likely to report heavy alcohol use and twice as likely to report cigarette smoking.

  • A survey of American women who had abortions found that the 27 percent of respondents reported increased use of drugs or alcohol and that they attributed this problem to their abortion.

  • A study in New Zealand that tracked approximately 500 women from birth to 25 years of age has confirmed that young women who have abortions subsequently experience elevated rates of suicidal behaviors, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, and other mental problems.

  • A study of women whose first pregnancies were unintended found that those who aborted reported more frequent and recent use of drugs or alcohol afterward compared to women who gave birth.2

  • Alcohol abuse is likely to affect not only the women themselves, but also their families: Mothers who abuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to "engage in authoritarian and punitive parenting practices," and parental substance abuse increases the risk that the children will suffer abuse or neglect.

  • There are many risk factors that increase the risk of a woman or girl suffering from post-abortion trauma. These include being pressured or coerced to abort, poor pre-abortion counseling, abortion due to fetal anomalies, and other problems such as a history of past abuse, conflicted feelings about the abortion; having an abortion as a teen; having prior children; having abortion due to poor prenatal diagnosis, and more.

  • When the most conservative risk estimates are applied to the general population of women, it indicates that at least 150,000 women per year abuse drugs and/or alcohol as a means of dealing with post-abortion stress.1

This coming month is a good time to raise awareness of how trauma from abortion can increase the risks of alcohol abuse among women, and how it effects their families.


Take Action: Raise awareness at your church or in your community about the link between abortion and alcohol abuse by downloading and sharing this ad/flyer with others.

Make copies to distribute as a flyer, post on bulletin boards or stuff it into bulletins, newsletters or other mailings. You can also post it on your web site, blog or Facebook page. A co-op version is also available that can include information about your organization or resources for help and healing.




1. David C. Reardon and Philip G. Ney, "Abortion and subsequent substance abuse," American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse 26(1):61-75, 2000.


2. D.C. Reardon, P.K. Coleman, and J.R. Cougle, "Substance use associated with unintended pregnancy outcomes in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth," American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 26(1):369-383, 2004.


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All I Wanted Was My Baby

Jill's Story


Note: The following testimony is excerpted from the book Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief After Abortion by Melinda Tankard Reist.

My boyfriend and I had been going steady for over 12 months, sure we were going to wait until we got married. I was 16 and a virgin, but we saw each other every day and one time the petting went to the point of no return. I had just had an appendix operation and I thought that was why my period was late. Think again: sure enough, I was pregnant.

By three months my pregnancy was starting to show. My boyfriend and I were really happy about it and I bought my first maternity dress. One Sunday night, instead of going to church, we decided to tell my parents. Their reaction took me totally by surprise. They told my boyfriend, whom they never liked anyway, to get out. Their only words to me were, "You are having an abortion"

ABORTION! That was something that had not even entered my head. I loved this baby growing in me; I didn't want to kill it. But I wasn’t asked what I wanted.

The next step was an appointment with the family doctor. Yes, no worries—hadn't he arranged the same thing for his daughter when she got into trouble? Anything to help a friend.

Dad told me how one of his girlfriends had become pregnant and had an abortion and years later had thanked him that she had. I didn’t want to know; all I knew was they were trying to kill my baby.

My boyfriend and I were going to run away. I saw him waiting outside in the car that night but Mum and Dad just wouldn’t go to sleep so I could sneak out and in the end I fell asleep.

A couple of days later Dad and I flew to Sydney (Australia). We went to see another doctor and I was taken to a hospital with chandeliers. I can still picture them as if it was yesterday. The nurse came in to give me my pre-med needle. I begged her to let me see the doctor. "You will see him in the [operating room]," she told me.

A group of about 15 women were sitting in the waiting room. There were two open doorways and one closed door that led to the operating room. A nurse continually walked past one doorway with a stainless steel bucket with a lid on it. I had nightmares about that bucket for years. Even though it has been almost 23 years, everything is so clear in my memory.

Continue reading ....



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News Briefs


Federal Funds for Abortion Would Put More Women
and Their Unborn Babies At Risk, Critics Say


-- Experts Say Executive Order Won't Override Abortion Funding in Health Care Bill

Critics are saying that the passage of the controversial health care reform bill will leave more women and their unborn children at risk for abortion. Despite an executive order from the President saying that taxpayer funds will not be used to pay for abortions--an order described by Planned Parenthood as "symbolic--experts have said that the order doesn't annul provisions in the statute that allow for such coverage.


Carenet, a leading chain of pregnancy resource centers, has said that more services will be needed to help women and girls avoid abortion, citing research that abortion rates increase when public funds are used to pay for abortions. Given that most most women don't want abortions if they have other viable options available to them, and that most do not receive proper counseling before abortion even when they feel rushed or uncertain, this would likely increase unwanted and coerced abortions as well.


Numerous studies have found that having an abortion puts women at greater risk of physical and psychological problems, including suicide, substance abuse, clinical depression, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, breast cancer, subsequent preterm birth (which puts their future children at risk of cerebral palsy and other problems) and more. Women are also more likely to suffer from depression and other problems even when their pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted.


Seattle Mom Angry at School for Sending Daughter
for Abortion Without Her Knowledge


A Seattle mother is angry that a health clinic at her daughter's high school sent the 15-year-old for an abortion during school hours without the mother's knowledge.


The mother, known only as Jill, told the media that she had signed a consent form allowing her daughter to receive treatment at a school based clinic at Ballard High School, but she didn't imagine that included abortion. She says the school gave her daughter a pass and sent her to an abortion business in a taxi during school hours for the procedure. Although Washington does not require parents to be notified before their minor daughter has an abortion, the mother says the school was out of line by facilitating the abortion.


Research shows that teens who abort are more likely to feel pressured into abortion, to report being misinformed in pre-abortion counseling and to experience more severe psychological stress after abortion. They also face physical and psychological trauma, which could also put them at risk if their parents don't know of the abortion. To learn more, and for resources to raise awareness about the risks to teens, see our special e-newsletter edition on teens and abortion.






Abortion Recovery InterNational to Host Recovery Symposium


Abortion Recovery InterNational (ARIN) will be hosting "Come Aboard," its Second Annual Abortion Recovery SHARE Symposium, from July 20-22, 2010 at the Crowne Plaza Resort in Anaheim, CA.


This event will give an overview of how to provide assistance to individuals and families who may experience emotional complications after being involved in an abortion experience, and help develop ways to expand and improve recovery efforts in local communities. 


Participants may include pregnancy center and abortion recovery staff and leaders, clergy, medical staff, professional therapists, school counselors and those at other community agencies. Early registration deadline is March 31. For more information, visit




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