Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 52

Supplementary evidence from Dr Chris Richards


  1.  Regarding the risk of deliberate self-harm in the abortion group compared to the post-partum women, the risk of "almost three times" was an error and should read "1.7 times". I apologize to the Committee for this mistake and ask you to amend my report accordingly.

  2.  You question my selection of data from the Gilchrist paper. It is obviously important that the Committee are presented with only the most reliable data. Reliability varies not only between studies but sometimes within individual studies. In this study the authors give two reasons for doubting the reliability of the data for the abortion-denied group which do not apply to the much more secure abortion and non-abortion data to which I referred. Their concerns can be summarised as follows:

    (a)  The abortion-denied group size was much smaller. It covered only 1,587 woman years compared to the abortion and non-abortion groups covering 28,046 and 21,778 woman years respectively. The authors concluded that "the study had little power to detect important effects" in the abortion-denied group (page 3).

    (b)  There was uncertainty about the accuracy of group allocation. The authors comment that "it is possible that the rate among women refused a termination was relatively high because some women had actually obtained an abortion" (page 7). Their concern was aroused by the extraordinarily high rates of reported miscarriage in the abortion-denied group, which may actually have been concealed abortions. Wrong assignment to groups could obviously affect the observed risks of deliberate self-harm substantially especially for the much smaller "abortion-denied" group. Considering the relative ease of access to abortion in the UK even at the time of the study in the late 1970s, I am sure that the authors were correct to be so concerned that having been denied an abortion by their GP, some women would have arranged one elsewhere without their GP necessarily knowing.

  The Committee will need to look elsewhere in the literature to draw any conclusion about the outcome of abortion-denied women. The medical literature on the outcome of this group is very limited; with the advent of easily available abortion in many Western countries this will remain so. The last review of the literature appears to be in Canadian Medical Association Journal[375] in 1984 which concludes that there is "a comparable outcome of pregnancy, delivery and puerperium between women who were denied abortion and controls (who did not seek abortion); no evidence that a continued unwanted pregnancy will endanger the mother's health; good acceptance of the infant by the mother, especially with the father's support; and minimal to moderate psychosocial disadvantages for the child".

October 2007

375   Del Campo C. Can Med Assoc J 1984 130;361-366. Back

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