Guest Column

Study claiming pro-life laws lead to higher female suicide rates provides no credible evidence

(National Review) The journal JAMA Psychiatry recently published a study analyzing how state-level abortion policies affect suicide rates among young women. It analyzed 43 years of state-level suicide data from the United States and purportedly found that limits to abortion increase suicide rates among women ages 20–34. A number of mainstream media outlets have reported on the study including NBC News, the Guardian, and Yahoo! News.

Despite the media’s uncritical coverage of this study, there is much less here than meets the eye. In fact, the study fails to provide credible evidence that pro-life laws or pro-life policies increase the incidence of suicide among young women. This is for several reasons.

First, the study analyzes state-level suicide rates of women aged 20–34 from 1974 to 2016. During that period, abortion was legal in all 50 states and, with maybe a couple of short-term exceptions, abortion facilities were operating in all 50 states. Overall, there were not large disparities in the availability of abortion across states.

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Second, the study analyzes the impact of only one category of state-level abortion policy, abortion-facility regulations, on the suicide rates of young women. These regulations, called “TRAP laws,” sometimes result in the closure of abortion facilities. However, TRAP laws do not have a consistent impact on state abortion rates.

Interestingly, the JAMA Psychiatry study did not analyze abortion rates, abortion ratios, or the number of abortion facilities. Any of these metrics would have provided a better measure of the availability of abortion. Also, the study did not analyze the impact of pro-life laws, such as limits on Medicaid coverage of abortion, which have a consistently negative impact on state abortion rates.

Third, the study failed to hold constant the state-level trends in suicide rates. Female suicide rates have been gradually increasing since the early 2000s, so it is possible that increases in female suicide rates after the abortion-facility regulations went into effect were due to that upward trend.

In reality, good research shows that abortion increases the risk of suicide and that pro-life policies reduce suicide rates. A study in the British Medical Journal in 1996 analyzed data from Finland and found that women who obtained abortions had a suicide rate three times higher than that of the general population. A study in Economic Inquiry in 2012 study found that pro-life parental-involvement laws result in statistically significant reductions in suicide rates among teenage girls. Unfortunately, such studies typically receive scant attention in mainstream media.

Editor’s Note: This article was published at National Review and is reprinted here with permission.

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