Monday 1 November 2010

Myth Busting Monday - Abortion counselling legislation protects women

A common myth is that abortion is traumatic and dangerous for women's mental health. In many parts of the United States doctors are mandated to provide women with specific information on the psychological risks of abortion. The information is not always scientifically accurate or evidence-based. The doctors do not choose what information they have to give out. The state governments often determine this after aggressive lobbying from the anti-abortion movement. So, women going for a safe, legal medical procedure may be, for example, advised that it is likely to damage her health or lead to mental illness.

So, what is the basis for fears about the impact of abortion on mental health? A recent large and comprehensive study of research literature around the world carried out by the American Psychological Association found that ordinary first trimester abortions (90% of abortions in the UK are first trimester) do not present a risk to a woman's mental health. Most women are able to integrate the experience of abortion into their lives without experiencing psychological problems.

So why would MP Nadine Dorries be holding an adjournment debate tomorrow (02.11.10) proposing that the legal framework for abortion should include mandatory provision of information about psychological risk and 'cooling off periods' - in which women who have freely chosen abortion are told to go away and think more about it and come back after a set number of days - Is it because she wants to improve women's lives and keep them safe?

Actually policies which mandate psychological counselling and 'cooling off periods' are a recipe for increasing delays for women choosing abortion, increasing the number of post 10 week abortions (successfully reduced over recent years), and increasing the anxiety and stress that women experience when seeking abortion. Another insidious, and intended, effect of these policies is to remould the anti-abortion movement as somehow pro-women and to reposition abortion, and by extension abortion providers, as dangerous.

None of this is about the health and wellbeing of women. It's highly ideologically driven and is probably just one of a range of attacks on current abortion law and provision we can expect from the anti-abortion movement in the next few months.


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