an After abortion

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Another study indicates the reality of post-abortion distress.

Abortions cause longer-lasting emotional distress than miscarriages, a BMC Medicine study suggests.

The BBC describes the study here, falsely saying that the grief and distress "can last for five years" when that is simply the amount of time allotted for this particular study. In other words, there's no reason whatsoever to suppose that the women in this study who were experiencing, as the BBC headline puts it, "mental anguish, anxiety, guilt and even shame" all of a sudden felt better after six years.

The study was conducted by four researchers from the Norwegian Council for Mental Health, the University of Oslo and Buskerud Central Hospital in Drammen. 40 women who had miscarried at an average of 17 weeks gestation and 80 women who had undergone an abortion at less than 13 weeks, with no fetal abnormalities, were included in the study. The women -- all 30 or younger -- were questioned at 10 days, then again six months, two years and five years after their pregnancies ended, in a period from 1998 to 2003.

This study is getting a fair amount of play in the press--more than any other study that has come out since we started this blog, actually. I'll have to think about why this might be.

The Washington Times wrote about it this morning:

The lingering distress, sadness and guilt brought on by an induced abortion is worse than that of a miscarriage and decreases much more slowly as time goes on, according to a five-year study of Norwegian women published yesterday.

In the aftermath of abortion, women "experienced more mental distress long after the event -- two and five years afterwards -- than women who had a miscarriage," the researchers reported.
The London Telegraph has a long opinion piece about the study:

The main statistic, produced by researchers at the University of Oslo, is so striking as to be hard to believe. After five years, less than three per cent of women who had miscarried were still suffering distress; the corresponding figure for women who had undergone an abortion was 20 per cent.

If we find this surprising, that in itself is a reflection of how imperfectly we understand abortion. The politicisation of the debate means that it is usually only unfashionable pro-life activists who point out its psychological dangers, and they are rarely given a proper hearing. Meanwhile, the Family Planning Association continues to insist that "there is no evidence to suggest that abortion directly causes psychological trauma".

The Oslo research exposes the absolute fatuity of that last claim. Abortion, like miscarriage, involves the loss of a baby; unlike miscarriage, the loss is the result of a conscious decision. And the operation itself, as Germaine Greer has taken to reminding her fellow feminists, is a gruesome one. No wonder that a fifth of women continue to feel depression, shame or guilt.
Pro-choice activist Rebecca Traister in a paid-access article at Salon (scroll down if you go there, and remember you can use the free one-day pass):

This is one of those studies that are hard to process. It's certainly important that we take seriously the distress some women suffer after the termination of a pregnancy, through either miscarriage or abortion. But studies like this get easily manipulated by antichoice groups anxious to demonstrate that women naturally feel guilt and emotional trauma about getting an abortion, when in fact what they may feel is sadness, relief or nothing at all.
Rebecca doesn't take that distress seriously for very darned long, does she? There's also a selection of letters at Salon, responding to the study. One pro-choice woman who says her experience with abortion was traumatic gets slammed in a catty and abusive way by other letter-writers.

Gotta get those chicks back down on the plantation.

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