Report on Abortion and Mental Health Violates the Methods of Science
Priscilla Coleman, Ph.D.
In 2008 the American Psychological Association released a Task Force Report concluding that “[t]here is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women.”
Although the report was criticized by both pro-life and pro-choice researchers, it continues to be cited as evidence that abortion does not have a negative impact on women’s mental health. Priscilla Coleman, a leading researcher on these issues, responds to these claims.
There is sufficient data in the scientific literature to conclude that induced abortion substantially increases risk of anxiety, depression, substance use, suicide ideation, and suicide. Over the last two decades hundreds of studies documenting abortion as a significant risk factor for mental health problems have been published in premier psychology and medical peer-reviewed journals. The research has been conducted by investigators with diverse disciplinary affiliations residing in nations across the globe (the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Canada, and South Africa, among others).
Unfortunately the rapidly accumulating evidence was largely discounted in a report released by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2008. The organization convened a Task Force of researchers holding strong pro-choice views to provide an analysis of the scientific evidence pertaining to abortion and mental health. Tragically for the millions of individual women and professionals who trust the APA to provide valid assessments of scientific information, the work was clearly politically driven and the report produced seriously distorted the literature.
To arrive at their conclusion, indicating that the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater for a first-trimester abortion than it is for an unplanned pregnancy carried to term, the organization critically departed from accepted scientific protocol. Problems plaguing the report included the following:
1) selective reporting of previously published reviews of the literature;
2) avoidance of methodologically based criteria to select studies to review;
3) a deceptive strategy to justify ignoring large groups of studies indicating negative effects;
4) shifting standards of evaluation of individual studies based on the results being congruent with a pro-choice agenda; and
5) avoidance of quantification of effects which offers the most objective means of pooling results across several studies.
Perhaps most egregious was the fact that the Task Force relied on one study from England published in 1995 to draw their definitive conclusion.
One brief example of the many false statements from the APA Task Force report is where they claim, “[r]arely did research designs include a comparison group that was otherwise equivalent to women who had an elective abortion.”
I have personally authored or co-authored three studies with unintended pregnancy delivered as a comparison group. (Coleman, 2006; Cougle, Reardon, Coleman, & Rue, 2005; Reardon, Coleman, & Cougle, 2004). All three studies indicated abortion was associated with more mental health problems than unintended pregnancy delivered.
Within weeks of the release of the APA Task Force Report, seven researchers, who together authored nearly 50 peer-reviewed article demonstrating negative effects of abortion, wrote a petition letter to Dr. Alan Kazdin, president of the APA. Key points raised included the following:
1) the wholesale dismissal of most of the evidence in the field;
2) the fact that in no other area of public health research has a highly contested issue been resolved on the basis of a single out of date research study as was done in the APA report; and
3) the APA report was not an impartial assessment of the mental health risks of abortion and its conclusions were unduly colored by the views of its authors.
In closing, we requested a retraction or revision indicating that the weight of the evidence in this area is not consistent with the conclusions drawn by the Task Force. The APA did not take any public action on our letter.
When considering the many deviations from accepted values and methods of science characterizing the process and conclusion of the APA Task Force, along with the results of sophisticated, large scale studies conducted by independent research groups in recent years, it becomes clear that the conclusions of the APA Task Force are grossly inaccurate. The findings should therefore not be accepted at face value by the public, health care professionals, or legislative bodies.
Copyright 2010 Priscilla Coleman. Reprinted with permission.
Learn More: Find more news, analysis and other information on the APA Task Force Report here.