Child Abuse Link to Abortion

By ensuring that unwanted pregnancies ended in abortion, legal abortion was supposed to reduce certain social ills that resulted from neglectful parenthood, such as child abuse.
  • Child abuse rates have risen steadily over recent years and several studies indicate a possible link with abortion.
  • It has been found that unwanted children are not more often abused than wanted children.
  • A mother who aborted may feel depression, anxiety and guilt during a subsequent pregnancy, interrupting in utero maternal/baby bonding.
  • There may be lack of partner support as the father is not sure if the woman will continue with the pregnancy.
  • 80% of relationships break up after abortion and the woman may have difficulty bonding in subsequent relationships.
  • A great many unwanted children become greatly 'wanted' after birth.
When abortion was legalised in the United States and throughout the western world, the popular slogan was “Every child a wanted child.”

The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) in America, predicted:

“A policy that makes contraception and abortion freely available, will greatly reduce the number of unwanted children, and thereby curb the tragic rise of child abuse in our country. Legal abortion will decrease the number of unwanted children, battered children, child abuse cases, and possibly subsequent delinquency, drug addiction, and a host of social ills, believed to be associated with neglectful parenthood.” (A Speaker and Debater’s Notebook, June 1978)

In the first 10 years after abortion was legalised in America however, child abuse increased by over 500 percent.

As in America, reported child abuse cases in New Zealand have been steadily increasing every year. Public awareness campaigns have helped increase reports to child-welfare agencies. Overall, the number of cases is climbing.

Several academic studies indicate a link between abortion and subsequent child abuse.
there are numerous personal testimonies from men and women, who report a correlation between their unresolved post-abortion feelings and their actual abuse (or desire to abuse) children.


More specifically, there are numerous personal testimonies from men and women, who report a correlation between their unresolved post-abortion feelings and their actual abuse (or desire to abuse) children.

Three prominent academics have published research: Theresa Karminski Burke, Ph.D., a psychotherapist, David Reardon, Ph.D., a biomedical ethicist and director of the Elliott Institute, and psychiatrist Philip Ney, M.D., a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Philip Ney is the leading researcher into understanding the link between abortion and subsequent child abuse. Most of his research has focused on the role of abortion in disrupting bonding with later children.

The symptoms are: weakening of maternal instincts, reduced inhibitions against violence, particularly towards children; and heightened levels of anger, rage and depression.

Ney writes, "When I investigated the relationship between child abuse and abortion and reported a direct correlation, people were angry and astonished. It appeared that the rate of child abuse did not decrease with freely available abortions. In fact, the opposite was true.

"In parts of Canada where there were low rates of abortion there were low rates of child abuse. As the rates of abortion increased, so did child abuse...Indeed, it is a vicious cycle. That is, parents who have been involved in abortion are more likely to abuse and neglect their children. Mothers and fathers who were abused as children are more likely to abort their child" (Deeply Damaged, p.91).

Unresolved abortion feelings
Ney’s 1993 study “Relationship between induced abortion and child abuse and neglect”, was published in Pre-and Perinatal Psychology Journal. In his summary, Ney observed:

“Four studies designed to investigate 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.”
Women who have had previous pregnancy losses, were more likely to abuse or neglect their children.


“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 parent-infant bonding process, thus leaving the child more exposed to periods when the parents are unconcerned about his/her needs, or are enraged by irritating behaviour.”

“Mothers who physically abuse 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.”
Lack of support by husbands and lack of breast-feeding also appear to contribute to abuse and neglect.


“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.”

Comparative studies on child abuse rates
“Some authorities (Calef. 1972: Denis, 1976: Greenland, 1973) have contended that every child should be a wanted child. Because of a belief that unwanted children are morel likely to be abused and neglected.”

“The thought was that elective abortion of unwanted children would help prevent child mistreatment. Now that western society provides effective contraceptives and abortion on request, nearly every child is ‘wanted’.”

“Remarkably few studies have been found that compare the incidence of child abuse and neglect today to earlier periods. However, there appears to be some dispute as to whether or not there is an increase in the incidence of mistreatment, or an improvement in reporting. It seems to be that the former is the case.”
Findings that child mistreat- ment has increased have necessitated a revaluation of the hypothesis that abortion prevents child abuse.

“Knudson (1988) of Purdue University, studied the reports to a child-protection agency over a 20-year period, and concluded that their growth reflects a genuine increase in abusive and neglectful behaviour. The reports corroborate earlier findings that child mistreatment has increased (Fontana and Bersharov, 1977; Kempe and Helfer, 1972; Bergstrand et al., 1979).”

“These findings have necessitated a revaluation of the hypothesis that abortion prevents child abuse. We are investigating an alternative hypothesis: that readily available abortion is contributing to an increase in child abuse and neglect.”

A study conducted by professor Edward Lenoski of the University of California concluded that 91% of abused children were from planned pregnancies. In society, 64% of pregnancies are planned ­ concluding that among abused children, a significantly higher percentage were wanted children compared to the percentage of wanted children in society at large.

Infanticide
Reardon, of the Elliot Institute, gives two examples of infanticide after abortion. A New Jersey woman beat her three-year old son to death, the day after her abortion. She told the court psychiatrist that “she knew the abortion was wrong” and “I should be punished for the abortion.” The psychiatrist who was the prosecution’s expert witness, testified that the killing was clearly related to Renee’s psychological reaction to her abortion.
One week after Donna Fleming’s second abortion she heard “voices” in her head and tried to kill herself and her two sons by jumping off a bridge in Long Beach, California.


A similar tragedy occurred one week after Donna Fleming’s second abortion. Depressed and distraught, she heard “voices” in her head and tried to kill herself and her two sons by jumping off a bridge in Long Beach, California. The two-year old boy died, but the mother and the five-year old survived.

Dynamics of trauma
Traumatic experiences are overwhelming experiences that are simply “too much” for a person to handle or understand. The normal response to trauma is to banish the experience from the mind – to run away form it, to hide it, or repress it. On one level trauma victims want to forget their horrible experience and put it behind them forever.

In conflict with this avoidance reaction is the equally powerful human need to understand the experiences and find meaning in them. Thus, while a person may consciously choose to avoid thinking about the traumatic experience, their subconscious insists on calling attention to the trauma. Their subconscious knows that an unresolved trauma is unfinished business. In order to be conquered, the horror of their traumatic experience must be exposed, proclaimed and understood.
Symbolic re-enactment is one of the ways that the subconscious seeks to simultaneously satisfy both the need to expose trauma and the need to hide it.


The tension between the need to hide a trauma and the need to expose it, is at the heart of many of the psychological symptoms of post-abortion trauma. Symbolic re-enactment is one of the ways that the subconscious seeks to simultaneously satisfy both of these needs: the need to expose trauma and the need to hide it.

Re-enactment - where a person subconsciously seeks to go through a traumatic situtation again - allows the person to expose the trauma with the hope that its exposure will eventually lead to understanding and mastery over the trauma. At the same time, because the trauma is re-enacted behind a symbolic mask, the essence of the trauma is still concealed and protected. Re-enactment allows the person to call for help, while disguising the areas that need help.

Maternal instincts can be affected
According to Ney there is a complex relationship between abortions and child abuse:
“It is possible that the mother who has had an abortion is more anxious during the pregnancy and more depressed afterwards. She is less able to bond with her next child.”

“It is possible that the abortion alters the mother’s innate response to the infant’s cry. Abortion may make it difficult for the mother to touch the baby, lessening the chances of breast-feeding and a healthy child. A less nourished child will cry more often and more pathetically, making the mother more anxious and/or irritable in her response to her infant’s needs.”
If the evidence is correct, then abortion directly or indirectly, contributes to child abuse and neglect.


“If the evidence and deductions are correct, then abortion directly or indirectly, contributes to child abuse and neglect by:
  • Interfering with the formation of a protective bond between the infant and both parents
  • Changing the parental response to the helpless infant’s cry, from nurture to aggression or neglect
  • Lessening the amount of touching the child and of breast-feeding
  • Diminishing the partner’s support of the mother
  • Devaluing the child and thus those who care for children
  • Creating a complicated grief for the mother, thus making her less aware of and less able to respond to the child’s needs
  • Promoting depression in the mother, for which children will tend to blame themselves.
  • "
Relationship problems
Ney addresses men and lack of partner support. “Perhaps there is lack of partner support in the current social climate, partly because the partner is not sure that the pregnancy with this child will continue. Knowing that his wife might independently decide to abort the baby, he does not attach himself to the baby, or support the mother during the pregnancy.”

“Evidence from our Pregnancy Outcome Study involving more than 1400 women, shows that a lack of partner support is the most significant variable leading to an increased tendency to abortion or spontaneous miscarriage.”
Women who were sexually abused as children, are more likely to seek abortions.

“Evidence from another study indicates that approximately 80% of the relationships examined, break up following an abortion. We collected that data from a large post-abortion counselling service. This study of clients of a telephone counselling service, also supports the observations of others that women who were sexually abused as children, are more likely to seek abortions.”

Wanted v unwanted children
“Arguments that unwanted children are more frequently abused are without significant support. Although there is some evidence that in low-income, single-mother families, unplanned children are more likely to be abused, they are not more often neglected, and the relationship is indirect (Zuravin, 1987; Zuravin, 1991).”

“The common variable is large family size, or possible unrealistic expectations, or pregnancy losses. Other authors found no relationship (Kotelchuk, 1982).

"We found that child wantedness changed significantly during pregnancy, but at no point was the unwanted child abused or neglected more often than the wanted child (Ney et al., 1986).”

Unwanted children and denied abortions
The results of six major medical studies on the impact of denied abortions on mothers and babies have been published in medical literature over the past 30 years.

A combination of the results showed that 71 percent of the 6,298 American, Swedish and New Zealand women who had been denied abortions completed their pregnancies. 13% went elsewhere to have a legal or illegal abortion. The remaining 14 percent could not be traced and were therefore not accounted for.
73% of those women who continued with their pregnancy were satisfied with the way things turned out, and 12% had given their children up for adoption.


A comprehensive 1963 study on the effects of denied abortion on resulting children, followed 249 children of Swedish women denied abortions for seven to ten years. The study found that 73% of these women were satisfied with the way things turned out, and 12% had given their children up for adoption.

Dr Joseph Lidz of Planned Parenthood commented at a conference on abortion in 1955:

“There are a great many originally unwanted children in this world, who have become very deeply wanted after birth, and I don’t think this is simply reaction formation. There are women who do not realize how gratifying it can be to mother a baby until they actually have it in their arms, and maternal feelings are aroused by the tangible situation.” (quoted by Mary Calderone, M.D., medical director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, editor of ‘Abortion in the United States: proceedings of 1955 conference on induced abortion’.)