Studies Showing Emotional Problems Not Relevant to American Psychological Association’s Pro-Choice Advocacy
Springfield, IL (Feb. 15, 2006) — According to a spokesperson for the American Psychological Association, the APA’s pro-choice position, first adopted in 1969, is based on a civil rights view, not on scientific proof of any mental health benefits arising from abortion.
The admission that ideology, not science, governs the APA’s support for abortion came in response to a request by a Washington Times columnist for the organization’s reaction to a new study linking abortion to mental illness. The study tracked 25 years of worth of data on women born in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The researchers had expected that their data, drawn from one of the largest and most comprehensive longitudinal studies in the world, would definitively refute a recent series of studies linking abortion to higher rates of mental health problems. The Christchurch team, led by a self-professed “pro-choice atheist,” Prof. David M. Fergusson, expected to find that any mental health problems occurring after abortion would be fully explainable by prior mental health problems, which some believe are more common among women who have abortions. Instead, the New Zealand research team found the opposite. Even after the researchers controlled for this and numerous other alternative explanations, abortion was clearly linked to elevated rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal behavior.
The findings so surprised Fergusson’s research team that they began reviewing the studies cited by the APA in its claims that abortion is beneficial, or at least non-harmful, to women’s mental health. The researchers concluded (1) that the APA’s publications defending abortion are based on a small number of studies that had major methodological shortcomings (a view that echoes former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s complaint in 1987 that the research on abortion was too inadequate to draw any definitive conclusions), and (2) that the APA appeared to be consistently ignoring a body of studies published in the last seven years that have shown negative effects from abortion.
The Christchurch team’s criticism of the APA’s selective and strong assurances of the mental health benefits of abortion prompted Warren Throckmorton, a psychologist and newspaper columnist, to call the APA for comment on Fergusson’s criticisms. He was referred to an APA expert and spokesperson on abortion and women’s issues, Dr. Nancy Felipe Russo. Russo was among the leaders within the APA who, in 1969, led the organization to adopt an official position in favor of abortion as a civil right. She has subsequently been active in research and advocacy efforts opposing parental notification and mandatory informed consent statutes related to abortion.
APA Is Not Neutral On Abortion Science
When asked to comment on the New Zealand study and the pro-choice authors’ criticisms of the APA, Russo told Throckmorton that the APA’s position on abortion was established on the view that abortion is a civil right. As quoted in Throckmorton’s Washington Times column, Russo explained that the Christchurch study would have no effect on the APA’s position because “To pro-choice advocates, mental health effects are not relevant to the legal context of arguments to restrict access to abortion.”
In the first draft of Throckmorton’s column, which he sent for comment to another expert on abortion research, Dr. David Reardon of the Springfield, IL-based Elliot Institute, Russo was quoted more bluntly, saying, “it doesn’t matter what the evidence says.” Throckmorton and Russo subsequently agreed to the clarification of her statement as it appeared in the Washington Times.
According to Reardon, an author of several of the studies on abortion that have been ignored by the APA, Russo’s statements “confirm the complaint of critics that the APA’s briefs to the Supreme Court and state legislatures are really about promoting a view about civil rights, not science. Toward this end, the APA has set up task forces and divisions that include only psychologists who share the same bias in favor of abortion.”
Reardon believes the APA’s task forces on abortion have actually served to stifle rather than encourage research. “When researchers like Fergusson or myself publish data showing abortion is linked to mental health problems, members of the APA’s abortion policy police rush forward to tell the public to ignore our findings because they are completely out of line with their own ‘consensus’ statements which are positioned as the APA’s official interpretation of the meaningful research on abortion.”
When is Relief Not Relief?
Reardon is especially disturbed by what he decries as the “one note” optimism found in position papers by the APA, Planned Parenthood, and other organizations supporting abortion.
Among the studies most frequently cited by abortion supporters are those that have asked women to check off a list of feelings they have after their abortions, often within just a few hours, a week, or a month of the procedure. The list may include words like “relief,” “regret,” “guilt,” and “happiness,” . These studies have found that the most commonly reported reaction after abortion is relief. Indeed, the phrase, “the most commonly reported reaction is relief,” frequently shows up in information and consent forms for abortion.
“All the emphasis on women experiencing relief is misleading because most women reporting relief also report negative reactions,” Reardon said. “Indeed, when you add up the number of women reporting negative reactions, it regularly exceeds the number of women reporting relief.”
The problem, Reardon says, is that while statistics on “relief” may have value in marketing or lobbying for abortion, they have little or no value as a scientific measure.
“Women are simply presented with this single word,” he said. “So women who feel relief that they survived an unpleasant surgery, relief that they will no longer face their boyfriend’s badgering to have an abortion, relief that they are no longer having morning sickness, or relief from any number of other stresses, are all lumped into the same category, even though their experiences are different. Lumping all forms of relief together helps to makes it sound like most women are reporting that abortion has fundamentally improved their lives, but it’s a sloppy and misleading data variable. In fact, when you really look at the data, most of the very same women who are reporting ‘relief’ are also reporting grief, shame, traumatic reactions, or other negative feelings.”
“Thirty-five years ago, when the APA joined in the effort to legalize abortion, they were promising more than just ‘relief,’” he added. “They were insisting that abortion would fundamentally improve women’s mental and physical health by sparing them the burden of unwanted children. But 38 million abortions later, there is still not a single statistically-validated study that has shown how abortion has actually improved the lives of women who abort compared to those who carry to term.”
“Instead, if you look at the data instead of consensus opinions, depression rates are up, not down, among women who have had abortions. Suicide and substance abuse are up, not down. Premature deliveries are up, not down,” said Reardon. “But instead of including this data in their statements on abortion, the APA’s self-selected panels of abortion advocates continue to distract the media from the all hard evidence linking abortion to higher rates of suicide, substance abuse, depression and anxiety by promoting meaningless statistics about relief.”
Reardon says he is thankful that Russo has finally helped to call attention to the fact that the APA’s position on abortion is principally based on a commitment to defend abortion as a civil right.
But this admission, he says, should be weighed in light of criticisms against the trend toward “consensus science” as a means of influencing politics. As one critic, best selling author Dr. Michael Crichton, creator of Jurassic Park and ER, has succinctly observed: “‘The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics.’”
Consensus Science is Not Science
Outside the context of the abortion debate, best selling author Michael Crichton, M.D., a 1969 graduate of the Harvard Medical School, described the disturbing trend of “consensus science” at a Caltech lecture in 2004, a brief portion of which is excerpted below:
I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.
Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
Excerpted from Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming” Caltech Michelin Lecture, Jan. 17, 2003.
David M. Fergusson, L. John Horwood, and Elizabeth M. Ridder, “Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 47(1): 16-24, 2006.
Warren Throckmorton. Abortion and mental health. Washington Times. January 21, 2005.
David, H. “Retrospectives” From APA Task Force to Division 34” Population & Environmental Psychology Bulletin 1999, 25(3):2-3.