Monday 3 October 2011

Myth Busting Monday – ‘Nearly 10% of all mental health problems are directly attributable to abortion’

A recent study claiming a causal link between abortion and mental health problems has been cited by a number of anti-abortion groups, keen to support the notion that abortion is ‘bad for women’.

The study makes some bold claims, these quotes are from The Telegraph coverage:

“Overall, the results revealed that women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10% of the incidence of mental health problems were shown to be directly attributable to abortion.”

“The study said that abortion was linked with a 34% greater chance of anxiety disorders, and 37% higher possibility of depression, a more than double risk of alcohol abuse – 110% – a three times greater risk of cannabis use – at 220% – and 155% greater risk of trying to commit suicide.”

Since its publication the study has been attacked by a number of prominent scientists. Responses to the article in the British Journal of Psychiatry draw attention to the flawed methodology and apparent bias of the authors:

“Priscilla Coleman presents her conclusions as "an unbiased, quantitative analysis of the best available evidence" concerning the adverse mental health consequences of abortion. Huge numbers of papers by respectable researchers that have not found negative mental health consequences are ignored without comment. Not surprisingly, over 50% of the "acceptable" studies she uses as her "evidence" are those done by her and her colleagues Cougle and Reardon. The work of this group has been soundly critiqued not just by us but by many others as being logically inconsistent and substantially inflated by faulty methodologies. As noted by the Royal Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists , the authors consistently fail to differentiate between an association and a causal relationship and repeatedly fail to control for pre-existing mental health problems...The "unbiased nature" of most of the studies Coleman has used in her analysis and the Declaration of Interest stated as being "none" must be taken with a large grain of salt. Reardon, the leader of this group, has clearly expressed his new rhetorical strategy as "we can convince many of those who do not see abortion to be a "serious moral evil" that they should support anti-abortion policies that protect women and reduce abortion rates" . He has stated that "I do argue that because abortion is evil, we can expect, and can even know, that it will harm those who participate in it. Nothing good comes from evil."

Reputable research from around the world disputes a causal relationship between abortion and significant mental health problems. Where women do feel sadness or regret following abortion, it may come from the circumstances of the pregnancy rather than the abortion itself.  Those women who are at greatest risk of regret are those who feel ambivalent about the decision, or have been coerced or forced into having an abortion against their will, or have had previous experience of psychiatric problems. For more on this see the RCOG’s ‘The Care of Women Requesting Induced Abortion’.

For further critique of Coleman's work see The Ministry of Truth blog.

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