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Thursday, December 2, 2004

The Washington Post has a front-page article today about a report from Henry Waxman's office saying that some abstinence programs mislead teens. (Link requires registration).

Many American youngsters participating in federally funded abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide...a congressional staff analysis has found. Those and other assertions are examples of the "false, misleading, or distorted information" in the programs' teaching materials, said the analysis, released yesterday, which reviewed the curricula of more than a dozen projects aimed at preventing teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

As we will see in a moment, it's neither false, misleading nor distorted to say that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide.

The report concluded that two of the curricula were accurate but the 11 others, used by 69 organizations in 25 states, contain unproved claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins. In some cases, Waxman said in an interview, the factual issues were limited to occasional misinterpretations of publicly available data; in others, the materials pervasively presented subjective opinions as scientific fact.

Among the misconceptions cited by Waxman's investigators...One curriculum, called Me, My World, My Future, teaches that women who have an abortion "are more prone to suicide" and that as many as 10 percent of them become sterile. This contradicts the 2001 edition of a standard obstetrics textbook that says fertility is not affected by elective abortion, the Waxman report said.
If a standard obstetrics textbook says something, does that make it true? As we wrote about here, the Washington Post itself, in February 2003, noted a connection between abortion and infertility. Their article is headlined Russians Feel Abortion's Complications: Used as Birth Control in Soviet Times, Practice Has Led to Widespread Infertility.

What should we make of the fact that Waxman doesn't put forward any studies to support his dismissal of any connection between abortion and suicide?

I'll think about that, but in the meantime, contrary to his unsubstantiated belief that there's no connection between abortion and suicide, recent medical studies about the psychological aftermath of induced abortion in the British Medical Journal and the Canadian Medical Association Journal show higher rates of clinical depression and psychiatric hospitalization after abortion. Most on point, an August 2002 study in the Southern Medical Journal--the complete article is available at that link--looked at California Medicaid records for 173,279 women who had an induced abortion or a delivery in 1989 and linked them to death certificates for 1989 to 1997.  Compared with women who delivered, those who aborted had a significantly higher age-adjusted risk of death from suicide. "Significantly higher" means 254% higher.

Score one for "Me, My World, My Future".

Update: See here for additional information about abortion in Russia, and the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web coverage of this.

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