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Four studies designed to investigate any association between induced abortion and child abuse found a number of positive correlations. These findings appear to run counter to popular opinion and some professional declarations that making abortion freely available would terminate unwanted children and thus lower the incidence of child mistreatment. There is no evidence that the incidence of child abuse has declined with more readily available abortion. We found unwanted children were not more often abused, but that women who had previous pregnancy losses were more likely to abuse or neglect their children. There are a number of possible explanations for this, but the one which most closely fits the data is that pregnancy losses, particularly abortion, tend to make a woman more anxious during a subsequent pregnancy, and more depressed after the child is born. The anxiety and depression interfere with the parentinfant bonding process, thus leaving a child more exposed to periods when the parents are unconcerned about his/her needs or are enraged by irritating behavior. Mothers who physically or verbally abuse their children tend to react with anger to the infant's cry. Those who neglect their children tend to react with anxiety or feelings of helplessness. We also found that women not supported by their partners are more likely to miscarry or terminate a pregnancy. Lack of support by husbands and lack of breast-feeding also appear to contribute to abuse and neglect. It is possible that husbands are less supportive because they fear that their infants might be aborted and they are powerless to stop it.
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Philip G. Ney, MA, MD, FRCP(C), FRANZCP, Tak Fung, PhD, and Adele Rose Wickett, BSN
Dr. Philip Ney is clinical professor in the Department of Family Practice, University of British Columbia. Dr. Tak Fung is with the Computing Services at the University of Calgary. Adele Rose Wickett is a research assistant to Dr. Ney. Address correspondence to Dr. Philip Ney, Box 24003, 4440 West Saanich Road, Victoria, BC, CANADA V8Z 7E7.