Psychological responses following medical abortion (using mifepristone and gemeprost) and surgical vacuum aspiration. A patient-centered, partially randomised prospective study

R Henshaw, S Naji, I Russell, A Templeton
Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 1994, 73 (10): 812-8

BACKGROUND: A substantial body of objective data now exists to support the consensus view that induced abortion results in a low incidence of psychiatric morbidity. However, these data do not include more recent advances in abortion technology. Medical abortion entails a participatory role on the part of the woman, who may perceive more pain or see products of conception. The physical and psychological events experienced by women undergoing this procedure may lead to differences in psychopathology.

METHODS: 363 women undergoing legal induced abortion up to 63 days gestation were allocated by a prospective partially randomised design to undergo medical abortion (using mifepristone 600 mg followed 48 h later by gemeprost 1 mg vaginal pessary) or vacuum aspiration performed under general anesthesia. This study design allowed women with a preference for a particular method to undergo that method; women without preferences were allocated at random. Women completed sensitive and reliable psychometric instruments (the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and a semantic differential rating scale designed to measure self-esteem) prior to abortion and 16 days later.

RESULTS: There were no significant differences between women allocated at random to medical abortion or vacuum aspiration in post-abortal anxiety, depression or low self-esteem. Women with high levels of mood disturbance prior to abortion, who were smokers or who had medical complications following abortion were at highest risk of post-abortal mood disorder.

CONCLUSIONS: Medical abortion is a psychologically safe as surgical vacuum aspiration. The quantitative findings of the study support the consensus view that abortion is associated with high incidence of psychological benefit, whichever method is used.

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