Group calls study on mental health, abortion ‘debunked’
Says research shows ‘no causal link’
In the simmering battle over abortion and mental-health problems, a reproductive-health organization says a published study linking the two has been “decisively debunked,” while the lead author of the study says her findings still stand.
The mental-health issue is relevant because at least 35 states require women seeking abortions to be counseled first, and “spurious research” already is leading to misinformation being spread via some of these counseling laws, the Guttmacher Institute said Monday.
The “highest-quality studies have found no causal link between abortion and subsequent mental-health problems,” said Lawrence Finer, the institute’s director of domestic research.
Also on Monday, the Journal of Psychiatric Research (JPR) published a letter to the editor by Mr. Finer and California psychiatry professor Julia R. Steinberg about a 2009 article by Priscilla Coleman and colleagues.
Ms. Coleman, a professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, examined data in the National Comorbidity Survey, and found that having an abortion was “related to an increased risk” for a variety of mental-health and substance-use disorders.
In their letter to JPR, Mr. Finer and Ms. Steinberg said their own research of the comorbidity data showed that the Coleman article contained several “erroneous statements or analyses,” and as a result, “false claims” were made about the implications of the findings.
The study did not distinguish between mental-health outcomes that occurred before the abortion and those that occurred afterward, they said.
“This was an abuse of the scientific process to reach conclusions that are not supported by the data,” Ms. Steinberg said.
In a separate commentary on Monday, JPR co-editor-in-chief Alan F. Schatzberg and Ronald C. Kessler, principal investigator of the comorbidity survey, agreed that the Steinberg-finer critique had “considerable merit,” and the Steinberg-finer research produced “more plausible” results than Ms. Coleman’s analysis.
Still, the Steinberg-finer results were not incontrovertible either, wrote Mr. Schatzberg and Mr. Kessler, and they suggested researchers use a different approach to research future questions about abortion and mental disorders.
Ms. Coleman, reached in London on Monday, said errors in sampling weight in the JPR article had been publicly corrected, and that “the pattern of results did not change much.”
She added that details about this and dozens of other studies relating to abortion and health are being assembled by a new nonprofit that she will direct, called World Expert Consortium for Abortion Research and Education.
The group will take a “nonreligious, nonpartisan” approach to disseminating scientific research on the “rapidly expanding literature on the health consequences of abortion,” it said on its website.
According to Guttmacher Institute’s March 1 report, 35 states require women seeking an abortion to first receive counseling.
Many states offer “accurate” information in their pre-abortion counseling, the institute said.
But some states say that abortion raises their risks for breast cancer, infertility and mental illness when “in reality, none of these claims are medically accurate,” it said.
Pro-life groups, however, maintain that a growing number of studies find that a portion of women — as many as a third — experience some kind of post-abortion psychological ill effect, including depression, suicide ideation and anxiety.
The Silent No More Awareness Campaign, founded in 2002 to address “the emotional and physical pain of abortion,” said last year that it was common for women and men to still seek healing 20 years after the abortion.