22 Year Delay of National Study on Abortion’s Mental Health
Risks is a Crime Against Women, Says Researcher
Springfield, IL (September 26, 2011) – In the wake of a new study published by Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists showing that abortion is linked to elevated rates of mental health problems, the Elliot Institute is calling for congressional hearings to investigate the risks of abortion to women and what abortion providers should do to mitigate these risks.
The study published in the September issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry found that 10 percent of mental health problems among women, including 35 percent of suicidal behaviors, may be attributable to abortion. These findings were based on the combined results of all studies published between 1995 and 2009 that met strict inclusion criteria. The resulting analysis included 877,181 women from six countries.
Women who aborted were 81 percent more likely to experience mental health problems compared to all other control groups, and 55 percent more likely to have problems compared to women who delivered an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.
A prominent researcher in the field, David Reardon – director of the Springfield, Illinois based Elliot Institute and the lead author of several of the studies included in the new study – is calling for congressional hearings to investigate why these and similar findings have been systematically excluded from government health advisories and government-funded health care programs.
“It is clear that a lot of health care dollars are being spent to treat abortion-related problems, but health care and family planning agencies accepting federal funds are not screening for the well-known risk factors that identify which subgroups of women are at greatest risk of complications associated with abortions,” Reardon said.
Known Risk Factors Are Routinely Ignored
A 2008 report by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Abortion and Mental Health identified 15 risk factors for susceptibility to more mental health problems after an abortion. Reardon believes federal law should require any health care provider who accepts federal money to screen patients considering abortions for these and similar risk factors.
“Right now, we know abortion clinics are routinely ignoring these risk factors because they face no liability for any of the psychological consequences of abortion,” he said.
To address these and similar concerns, the Elliot Institute has announced a campaign calling for congressional hearings on abortion and women’s health. The hearings should also examine the lack of any major national studies on the subject, despite a 22-year-old recommendation by then-Surgeon General C.EverettKoop for just such a study.
The question of abortion’s impact on women’s health last became a major national issue in 1989 when Koop responded to request from President Regan for a report on the subject. Koop told Regan that that no definitive conclusions could be drawn because of the low quality of research available at that time, and suggested that the best way to gather definitive evidence would be for the government to fund a 10-year, national longitudinal study.
Reardon said Koop’s recommendation was blocked by abortion advocates, including the American Psychological Association, which adopted an official policy to advocate for abortion rights in 1967.
“The study proposed by Koop was never funded because abortion advocates argued it was a waste of money,” Reardon said. “But in my view, they were afraid the research would confirm what large numbers of women were already reporting, that abortion was causing or aggravating more emotional problems than it solved. They opposed the research for political reasons, not scientific reasons.”
Congressional Oversight Needed
Characterizing the failure to adequately study the risks associated with one of the most common medical procedures in the country as “practically a crime against women,” Reardon said the new study published by the Royal College of Psychologists should finally provide the impetus needed to fund this long-overdue study.
But he also fears it won’t get done without congressional involvement.
“We need to do this right,” he said. “The only way to protect the process from politicization is to acknowledge that abortion is inextricably politicized, and to set up oversight that ensures that researchers on both sides of the political divide participate in the study design.”
He said that congressional oversight is also needed because of bureaucratic resistance in government agencies to undertake such research unless there is specific legislation and congressional oversight directing the effort.
Another advantage of congressional hearings is that “political debate is needed to spark the public discussion abortion’s impact on women and the importance of support for recovery programs,” Reardon said. He believes that the lack of any major media coverage of the new study is indicative of a widespread bias against stories about medical research that casts a negative light on abortion.
“Imagine the headline news coverage that would have been given to the Royal College had published a meta-analysis showing that 10 percent of mental illness was due to giving birth to unplanned children rather than abortion,” Reardon said. “Every network would have covered that story. But when the culprit is abortion, the story get’s spiked by the science and medicine editors.”
But if Congress holds extensive hearings, he said, then the news about these studies may at least get covered by the reporters covering politics.
Source: Coleman PK. Abortion and mental health: quantitative synthesis and analysis of research published 1995–2009. The British Journal of Psychiatry (2011) 199, 180–186.