Background: The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship
between maternal history of induced abortion and subsequent frequency of
child-directed aggressive behavior in a sample of mothers of children
who have been abused or neglected. The mothers were either the
perpetrators of the maltreatment or they allowed someone else to
mistreat their children [scroll down for more information].
Baltimore and were receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children
(AFDC) at the time interviews were conducted in the 1980s. Women with
and without a history of abortion were compared relative to
child-directed physical aggression after controlling for the experience
of a non-voluntary perinatal loss as well as socio-demographic, family
of origin, and partner aggression variables associated with the choice
slapping, hitting, kicking or biting, beating, and use of physical
punishment in general.
related to the frequency of engaging in physically aggressive behaviors,
this study adds to our knowledge of variables associated with the choice
The purpose of this study was to explore maternal history of induced abortion as a possible variable linked with increased frequency of child physical abuse in a sample of mothers who have either personally mistreated their children or allowed someone else to do so. The findings indicated that women who had an abortion history reported more frequent slapping, hitting, kicking or biting, beating, and use of physical punishment compared to women without an abortion history, after statistical controls were instituted for other forms of perinatal loss and socio-demographic, family of origin, and boyfriend/husband aggressive behaviors identified as significant predictors of the choice to abort. As suggested in the introduction segment of this article, abortion should not be assumed to be an experience that is void of intense emotions for all women. Consequently, an association between abortion and frequency of aggressive acts could be due to unresolved bereavement issues associated with the abortion experience, disruption of mother-child attachment mechanisms, feelings of abortion-related guilt or shame, and/or negative mental health effects of the abortion. Future research on abortion and parent aggression should include assessments of these likely mediating mechanisms.
A second explanation for the findings of this study is that certain personal or situational variables are related to both the choice to abort and to more frequent physical aggression…perceived stress, impulsivity, low empathy, the tendency to avoid intimacy/emotional closeness, self-absorption, and or low tolerance for/disinterest in children may have influenced the decision to abort and the tendency to engage in more frequent aggressive behaviors. Future research efforts should include a wide range of attitudinal and personality variables which would assist in additional interpretation of the meaning of the relationships observed between maternal history of induced abortion and frequency of physically aggressive behaviors…pregnancy loss was identified in previous studies as a predictor of child maltreatment [ 25 , 32 ] and the results of this study suggest that induced abortion may exacerbate the tendency to engage in child-directed aggression at least as measured in terms of frequency…Finally, in a study comparing women who decided to abort early in pregnancy versus delay the decision until the 2nd trimester, women who decided to abort early were more likely to report primary caregivers who were ambitious, intellectual, successful, judgmental, and punitive [ 48 ]. Therefore, not only might the choice to abort have a basis in childhood relationships, but the timing of an abortion might be differentially related to parenting styles exposed to during childhood…In conclusion, future studies that examine the link between abortion and parenting should investigate factors that influence abortion decision-making, women's personal conceptualizations of the meaning of abortion, emotions associated with the decision and the abortion itself, negative post-abortion emotional reactions, coping strategies, perceptions of personal consequences, and the quality of women's relationships with their children. Ideally all or most of these variables will be examined in the context of one large investigative effort with inclusion of samples of women with and without a history of maltreatment.
Bowling Green State University
Study: Women Having Abortions More Likely to Engage in Child Abuse
A new study finds that women who have a history of abortion are more likely to abuse children born from subsequent pregnancies. The study, published in the Internet Journal of Pediatrics and Neonatology, confirms previous research which suggests that there is a link between abortion and child abuse.
The study is based on an analysis of data on 237 low-income women in Baltimore who had physically mistreated or neglected at least one of their children or allowed someone else to do so.
While all the women in the study had some connection with child maltreatment or neglect, the authors found that those who reported a history of abortion reported significantly more frequent acts of physical violence, such as slapping, hitting or beating, directed at their children.
Dr. Priscilla Coleman, a researcher at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, was the lead author of the new report.
Coleman, a professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green State University and lead author of the study, suggested that the link between abortion and child abuse may be influenced by a number of key factors, including unresolved grief, having felt pressured into an unwanted abortion, and disruption in maternal bonding with subs
equently born children.
Unresolved grief issues, Coleman noted, "may negatively impact parental responsiveness to child needs, trigger anger, which is a common component of grief, and/or increase parental anxiety regarding child well-being." Some research indicates that grief may be more difficult to resolve if women undergo an unwanted abortion due to pressure from others.
In one study, cited by Coleman, 64 percent of American women with a history of abortion reported feeling pressured to abort by others.
Coleman said that only a few studies have examined the association between abortion history and child maltreatment.
Coleman explained that there are many possible explanations for the association — including "unresolved bereavement, disruption of mother-child attachment mechanisms, feelings of abortion-related guilt, and/or negative mental health effects of the abortion."
"In this particular study we found that the severity of abuse was more pronounced among mothers with a history of abortion compared to those without a history," Coleman said. "This makes sense since we do know that abortion can precipitate difficult to resolve anger issues."
"For many years the impact of abortion was believed to be minimal and time limited," Coleman told LifeNews.com. "However, it seems the more we study it, the longer and more
pervasive the effects of abortion seem to be on not only the women involved, but their families as well."
The study found that press to have an abortion may also be impact later cases of child abuse.
The research indicated that grief may be more difficult to resolve if women undergo an unwanted abortion due to pressure from others. In one study, cited by Coleman, 64 percent of American women with a history of abortion reported feeling pressured to abort by others.
Dr. David Reardon, director of the Illinois-based Elliot Institute and a leading researcher who has been involved in more than a dozen studies on the impact of abortion on women, responded to Coleman's study.
He said it confirms the general findings of previous studies linking abortion with a higher risk of abuse or neglect.
"Previous research has also shown that abortion is linked with a subsequent increased risk of alcoholism, drug use, anxiety, rage, anger and psychiatric hospitalization," Reardon said. "Any of these factors, individually or in combination, can significantly increase the personal and family stresses that can lead to maltreatment or neglect."
A previous study by Coleman found that a maternal history of abortion was linked to less supportive home environments for subsequently born children and that subsequent children exhibited more behavioral problems than the children of women without a history of abortion.
Other research conducted in New Zealand tracked young women from birth to 25 years of age found that young women who had abortions were significantly more likely to experience subsequent depression, suicidal behavior and substance abuse, even after the researchers controlled for previous mental health problems.
"Taken all together, these studies show that the mental health effects of abortion don't stop with women," Reardon said. "They will impact their families, too."
Coleman's team suggested that professionals should be aware of the links between abortion and maternal mental health problems.
She suggested that they "sensitively inquire about any history of abortion and related, unresolved negative emotions when working with women engaged in or at risk for aberrant parenting."
Finally, the authors concluded that while additional research is always needed, there can no longer be any doubt that abortion significantly impacts the health of women and their families.
"For years, abortion was construed to be a benign medical procedure carrying little if any potential for lasting adverse effects," they wrote.
"However … the last several years have brought greater understanding that abortion for many women is an issue with profound physical, psychological, spiritual and lifestyle dimensions that are intimately tied to many aspects of their lives," they said.
[13March07, Ertelt, LifeNews.com, Washington, DC]
This study can be found at the Internet Journal of Pediatrics and Neonatology website:
PK Coleman, VM Rue, CT Coyle, CD Maxey, "Induced Abortion and Child-Directed Aggression Among Mothers of Maltreated Children," Internet Journal of Pediatrics and Neonatology, 6(2), 2007. http://www.ispub.com/ostia/index.php?xmlFilePath=journals/ijpn/vol6n2/abortion.xml
VM Rue et. al., "Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women," Medical Science Monitor, 10(10): SR5-16 (2004).
PK Coleman et. al., "The Quality of the Caregiving Environment and Child Developmental Outcomes Associated with Maternal History of Abortion Using the NLSY Data," Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43(6): 743-57 (2002).
DM Fergusson et. al., "Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health," Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(1): 16-24 (2006).
Additional studies linking abortion to child abuse:
PG Ney, T Fung, AR Wickett, "Relationship Between Induced Abortion and Child Abuse and Neglect: Four Studies," Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal, 8(1):43-64 (1993).
M Benedict, R White, P Cornely, "Maternal Perinatal Risk Factors and Child Abuse," Child Abuse and Neglect, 9: 217-224 (1985).
E. Lewis, "Two Hidden Predisposing Factors in Child Abuse," Child Abuse and Neglect, 3: 327-330 (1979).
P. Ney, "Relationship Between Abortion and Child Abuse," Canadian J. Psychiatry, 24:610-620 (1979). [13March07, SPRINGFIELD, IL, LifeSiteNews.com]
Induced Abortion and Child-Directed Aggression Among Mothers
of Maltreated Children
Priscilla K. Coleman, Ph.D., Vincent M. Rue, Ph.D., Catherine T. Coyle, Ph.D., Charles D. Maxey, B.S.: Induced Abortion and Child-Directed Aggression Among Mothers of Maltreated Children. The Internet Journal of Pediatrics and Neonatology. 2007. Volume 6 Number 2, ISSN: 1528-8374
Child maltreatment is one of the most troubling social problems of contemporary times, with an estimated 896,000 substantiated cases of abuse and/or neglect in the United States in 2002 [ 1 ]. In the same year, 1,400 children died as a direct result of abuse or neglect [ 1 ]. A great deal of research attention has focused on the etiology of child maltreatment in an effort to understand causal mechanisms and to improve intervention and prevention efforts. After decades of intense study, the consensus among scholars of child maltreatment is that the causes are multifaceted, with risk factors interacting in complex and frequently distinct ways from case to case [ 2 ]. As complex as this area of investigation is and as difficult as it may be to predict child maltreatment in the individual situation, the available literature has provided strong support for several risk factors. The more robust predictors of child abuse and neglect include poverty, parental childhood history of maltreatment, social isolation, poor parenting skills and unrealistic parenting expectations, poor coping skills, low self-esteem and other psychological problems, as well as substance abuse [ 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 ].
Among the many possible variables associated with heightened risk for child maltreatment that have received minimal systematic research attention are maternal reproductive history in general and experience of an induced abortion in particular. An hypothesized association between induced abortion and child maltreatment is logical for at least four reasons. First, studies of non-voluntary forms of perinatal loss have revealed heightened risk for aberrant parenting behavior (e.g., lower levels of pleasure, lack of attachment, and higher rates of child abuse) associated with a prior miscarriage or stillbirth [ 9 , 10 ] and for a number of women, induced abortion may be experienced as a non-voluntary loss, which was not freely chosen. Research on abortion decision-making conducted over the last few decades has consistently revealed that women who abort often do so with ambivalence and under the pressure of others and/or in response to situational constraints [ 11 , 12 , 13 ]. Unresolved grief responses associated with perinatal loss may negatively impact parental responsiveness to child needs [ 14 , 15 ], trigger anger, which is a common component of grief [ 16 , 17 , 18 ], and/or increase parental anxiety regarding child wellbeing [ 15 , 17 ]. All these factors may increase the risk of parenting difficulties and increase the likelihood of child maltreatment.
Second, there is strong evidence that maternal-child attachment begins during pregnancy [ 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 ], with one study demonstrating that some pregnant women begin to experience feelings of attachment very early in pregnancy [ 22 ] and it is conceivable that a disruption in this process through abortion may hinder the development of attachment mechanisms in subsequent pregnancies. Child maltreatment is essentially a physical or emotional manifestation of a disrupted parent-child relationship and although many variables undoubtedly factor into disturbed parent-child relationships, termination of a pregnancy may very well represent one key variable in some cases.
Third, because abortion is a voluntary act, many women may experience significant levels of guilt precipitated by moral or religious conflicts [ 12 , 23 , 24 ]. Guilt associated with abortion has been found to range from 29.7% to over 75% [ 12 , 23 , 24 ]. Abortion-related feelings of guilt or shame may hinder the development of feelings of closeness to later born children, lead to feelings of not deserving another child, or foster more generalized negative self-appraisal, and any of these emotional responses may increase the likelihood of negative parenting attitudes and abusive or neglecting parenting behaviors occurring [ 25 ].
Fourth, abortion has been found to be associated with a heightened risk for mental health problems, including anxiety [ 26 , 27 ], depression [ 28 , 29 ], and substance use [ 30 , 31 ], which as indicated previously, may heighten the risk of child maltreatment. Substance abuse is a particularly strong risk factor as it is implicated in almost half of all substantiated cases of child maltreatment [ 8 ].
A few recent studies have identified relations between maternal history of abortion and problematic parenting, including lower emotional support and heightened risk for both child abuse and neglect [ 25 , 32 , 33 ]. The current study was undertaken in an effort to build on these studies and to add to the available literature pertaining to variables associated with more frequent physical aggression directed toward children. This study focused exclusively on mothers of children who have been maltreatment to test the hypothesis that women who have had an abortion will report more frequent use of child-directed physical aggression than women who have not had an abortion after controlling for the experience of a non-voluntary perinatal loss as well as socio-demographic (e.g., age, marital status, age, parity, education, ethnicity, religion, and daily stressors), family of origin, and partner aggression variables associated with the choice to abort. Previous research supports exploration of variables from each of the above categories as potential correlates of the choice to terminate one's pregnancy [ 34 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 ].
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[Priscilla K. Coleman, Ph.D., http://www.ispub.com/ostia/index.php?xmlFilePath=journals/ijpn/vol6n2/abortion.xml
Internet Scientific Publications]