Wednesday, August 27, 2008

American Psychological Association study on mental health and abortion: conclusions lack credibility

A draft report prepared by the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion was released Aug. 12 and its conclusions were presented at the association's annual convention in Boston. Incredibly the study found there is "no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women."

This conclusion seems to fly in the face of the facts considering that the research found, some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion, even "clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety," the study did not find sufficient evidence "to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and a mental health problem was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors."

The APA has long held that abortion has no negative mental-health consequences for most women and claim it is crucial for women's mental health that they have access to safe, legal abortions.

David Reardon of the Elliott institute however questions the credibility of the report which he claims is tarnished by the fact that the lead author, Dr. Brenda Major, has violated the APA's own data sharing rules by consistently refusing to allow her own data on abortion and mental health effects to be re-analyzed by other researchers.
Reardon who co-authored a number of books on the issue also claims, the newly released report is flawed by a pattern of wording and reporting which tends to obscure rather than clarify what researchers have found about the mental health effects associated with abortion. The primary conclusion of the report, as highlighted in the APA news release, is that "There is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women…"

According to Reardon, this nuanced statement is intended to convey a message that abortion has no mental health risks but those familiar with the literature will see that it actually admits that there is compelling evidence that there are negative effects for:

  • women who have multiple abortions, (which accounts for about half of all abortions); women who abort of a wanted pregnancy because of coercion or pressure to abort from third parties and may account for about 20-60% of all abortions; minors who have abortions; and
    women with pre-existing mental health problems in which case abortion may not "in and of itself" be the sole cause of mental health problems but may instead trigger or aggravate pre-existing problems.

"Even the modifier that there is 'no credible evidence' of mental health risks in the ideal case of a low risk abortion patient" according to Reardon, "is an admission that there is indeed some evidence that a single abortion can pose a risk to the mental health of a emotionally stable, adult woman,". "In fact, the report itself" according to Reardon, "identifies a whole host of studies providing such evidence, but it mutes a clear presentation of the findings of these studies by focusing on the limitations of each study's methodology, which all studies have, in order to justify ignoring their clear implications.

SPUC director John Smeaton has also posted an article on the issue, on his BLOG