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Thursday, December 23, 2004

The blog Not Your Father's America reprinted an article this morning that originally ran in the October 2004 Washington Monthly.

The article is by Chris Mooney, who writes this blog.

In it, Mooney criticizes David Reardon of The Elliot Institute:

Take David Reardon, an Illinois-based researcher who during the 1980s set out to prove that abortion causes mental illness, chemical dependency, and a range of other poor health outcomes in women. It's true that women sometimes feel temporarily depressed or guilty after an abortion.
Interesting that he would acknowledge this. He doesn't say what research has led him to believe that this is the case. He also doesn't say what he means by "temporary". He doesn't say how acute these temporary feelings are, or how many women manifest them. He doesn't say why someone would feel guilty temporarily but no longer feel guilty after a period of time has elapsed. What happened, cognitively or emotionally, do reduce or eliminate that feeling?

But the notion that abortion regularly causes severe or clinical mental problems has been rejected by, among others, a group of experts convened by the American Psychological Association and Ronald Reagan's surgeon general, C. Everett Koop.
Hm. There's a lot of room between the claim that abortion doesn't have a negative emotional aftermath and the claim that it "regularly causes severe or clinical mental problems". I appreciate that Chris Mooney is minding the gap. His caution is justified, especially considering that recent medical research does suggest more severe and clinical problems.

Reardon first emerged on the intellectual scene in 1987 with a book titled Aborted Women, Silent No More, a review of the "evidence"...
I'm old enough to remember when scare quotes didn't immediately make one think "childish".

...on abortion's after-effects that included testimonies from women who had undergone post-abortion religious conversions.
Along with testimonies from women who had not undergone post-abortion religious conversions. Again, a childish rhetorical gesture. Look at the message boards at this website for wrenching and current expressions of enormous pain from non-religious post-abortive women.

The next year, Reardon founded his own quasi-academic think tank, the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research. At the time, Reardon had a background in electronic engineering; he's since acquired a Ph.D. in biomedical ethics from Pacific Western University, an unaccredited correspondence school offering no classroom instruction.
Ooooohhhh. Really takin' off the gloves there! My assumption is that if the published research supported Mooney's claims, he wouldn't feel compelled to trot out irrelevant claims about Reardon's educational credentials.

Over the years, Reardon has managed to publish a number of abortion-related papers in scientific journals.
Did the editorial boards forget to ask Reardon for his credentials? Or don't they look at that when they consider publishing an article?

But at best, he has been able to show correlations between abortion and, say, depression or alcoholism--not causation.
Why do pop journalists trot out Philosophy of Science 101, Week Two, when there's a published correlation that undermines one of their cherished biases? Correlations don't matter? They certainly do to the peer reviewers and editorial boards at the journals that publish this research. I'm getting a vision of Chris Mooney scribbling out a note to, say, the editor at Obstetrics and Gynecological Survey saying "correlation isn't causation. Nah nah nah boo-boo." In my vision, the note is in crayon and block letters.

In a 2003 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, for instance, Reardon and co-authors reported that women who undergo abortions end up being admitted for psychiatric care more frequently than those who do not. But as numerous critics pointed out, that hardly proved that abortion causes mental problems. In a rebuttal of the study, University of California at Santa Barbara psychologist Brenda Major noted that Reardon's group failed to control for the different life circumstances of women who choose to abort versus those who have a planned pregnancy. (Women who opt for abortion, for example, tend not to be married or in intimate relationships--factors themselves linked to poorer mental health.)
Yes, and the editors responded here.

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