Women who have a single abortion do not have a higher risk of mental health problems such as depression than women who have their babies, the American Psychological Association reported on Wednesday.
A panel appointed by the group representing psychologists found no credible evidence that having one elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy causes mental health problems for adult women.
"The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy, the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion or deliver that pregnancy," said Brenda Major, a psychologist specializing in stress at the University of California Santa Barbara, who chaired the task force.
"The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain," she said.
The psychologists analyzed hundreds of studies that have been done on the contentious question, including those that have purported to show serious mental health effects of abortion.
Their report, being presented at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in Boston, counters arguments made by anti-abortion groups.
They said women who had mental health problems before becoming pregnant, women who worried about stigma or secrecy or those who had low self-esteem were more likely to develop mental health problems after an abortion.
"Across studies, prior mental health emerged as the strongest predictor of post-abortion mental health. Many of these same factors also predict negative psychological reactions to other types of stressful life events, including childbirth," they wrote in the report.
Abortion is common and usually freely chosen by the woman, the report said.
"Approximately half of women in the United States will face an unintended pregnancy during their lifetime, and about half of those who unintentionally become pregnant resolve the pregnancy through abortion," the report says.
"The reasons that women most frequently cite for terminating a pregnancy include not being ready to care for a child (or another child) at that time, financial inability to care for a child, concern for or responsibility to others, desire to avoid single parenthood, relationship problems, and feeling too young or immature to raise a child," they wrote.
"Some pregnancies are terminated because they are a consequence of rape or incest. Very few (fewer than 1 percent) women cite coercion from others as a major reason for their abortion."