restricting access increases the risk of suicide


  • The overall number of people ending their lives tends to decrease, except among adolescents and young women. While overall men commit suicide more than women, among 15-29 year olds, the volume of suicidal gestures is higher among women.
  • Statistics indicate a volume of “usual” admissions per year twice as high among women (between 13,000 and 15,000) than among men (between 7,000 and 8,000) between 2018 and 2020.
  • Suicide is the second cause of maternal mortality, with 35 suicides between 2013 and 2015, or 13.4% of maternal deaths.

Nearly a year before the June 2022 Supreme Court ruling (“Dobbs v. Jackson”) overturning the right to abortion in the United States, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) began to study the link between abortion and suicide.

While discussions about access to reproductive care have since taken on renewed urgency, the results of their work have been published this December 28 in JAMA Psychiatry. They show that in the United States, the restriction of access to abortion is linked to an increased risk of suicide among women of childbearing age.

Women: anti-abortion laws linked to rising suicide rate

To obtain these results, the researchers used national data over a period of 42 years (from 1974 to 2016), covering the entire population of adult women during this period. Next, among women of childbearing age, they analyzed suicide rates before and after restrictive reproductive laws came into effect, comparing those numbers to general suicide trends and to those rates in places where there are there are no such restrictions. “Comparatively, women who experienced the shock of this type of restrictive legislation experienced a significant increase in the suicide rate”explains Jonathan Zandberg, co-author of the study, in a communiqué.

Next, the researchers looked at whether the finding was specific to women of childbearing age or could be seen in other populations. For comparison, they performed the same analysis for all women aged 45 to 64 and found no association. Finally, they looked at another common cause of death, motor vehicle death rates, and also found no effect.

Abortion: better suicide prevention policies needed

However, several limitations remain to these findings that make it impossible to establish an entirely certain causal link, including the fact that the researchers did not have access to data on the experiences or mental health of the individual women.

Yet even with these limitations, the researchers say the findings have many clinical, policy, and ethical implications. On the one hand, recognizing this link may change the way physicians and other health care providers approach the classification of suicide risk in women of childbearing age. Beyond that, for the authors of the study, it highlights the need for better suicide prevention policies and adds concrete data to the ethical debate on access to abortion.

In particular, the research team stresses that it is important to have an overview of current trends in order to plan future scenarios in which partial restrictions turn into full restrictions or even criminalization of abortion, whether in United States, Europe or elsewhere.

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