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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Warren Throckmorton, of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, has been all over the recent medical studies indicating that women with a history of abortion have poorer mental health.

In yesterday's Washington Times, he reviews two very recent studies and reports on his discussions with some key players in this area. Here, he questions Nancy Russo on whether studies about mental health and abortion have anything to do with legal questions:

No, according to Nancy Felipe Russo, Regents professor of psychology and women's studies at Arizona State University. The American Psychological Association referred me to Dr. Russo for comment on the New Zealand study. Dr. Russo pointed out that in 1969 the APA adopted the position that abortion should be a civil right. She added, "To pro-choice advocates, mental health effects are not relevant to the legal context of arguments to restrict access to abortion."
That's also true of most pro-life advocates.

Mr. Throckmorton also interviewed David Fergusson, the author of the recent New Zealand report on mental health problems with post-abortive young women:

Mr. Fergusson's report singled out APA for criticism over its handling of research on women's post-abortion psychological adjustment. He quotes the APA's briefing paper on abortion: "Well-designed studies of psychological responses following abortion have consistently shown that risk of psychological harm is low. Some women experience psychological dysfunction following abortion, but postabortion rates of distress and dysfunction are lower than pre-abortion rates."

In an interview, Mr. Fergusson said he believes the APA's conclusions imply a greater certainty than is warranted by existing studies. In fact, Mr. Fergusson is generally critical of all research on postabortion distress, saying: "It borders on scandalous that one of the most common surgical procedures performed on young women is so poorly researched and evaluated. If this were Prozac or Vioxx, reports of associated harm would be taken much more seriously with more careful research and monitoring procedures."
Thank you, Mr. Fergusson.

Although Mr. Fergusson agrees with Ms. Russo that abortion should be a civil right, he is critical of the APA's rejection of possible adverse reactions to abortion.

About his views, the researcher says, "It's one thing to have a civil right to do something and quite another thing is the consequences of doing it. It may well turn out that the procedure has risks we did not foresee."

Those possible "risks we did not foresee" should inspire less certainty and more research on abortion and mental health. In the meantime, health professionals might consider: When women come forward, unprovoked, saying their abortion decision continues to affect them, they might just be right.
Throckmorton also has a well-thought-out article on his own website, calling for the American Psychological Association to re-open the question of whether abortions adversely impact mental health.

...not all experts think the potential mental health consequences of abortion warrant serious concern. Leslie Cameron of the American Psychological Association’s Public Policy Office told me that the “APA has a long history monitoring research related to psychological aspects of abortion, beginning with a policy resolution adopted in 1969, which identified access to abortion as a mental health and child welfare issue.” According to the APA, not having access to an abortion is potentially more hazardous to mental health than having one.

She pointed out that the APA examined the evidence about the mental health impact of abortion in 1989 and “should the preponderance of good science indicate a need to revise policy, APA has mechanisms in place to do that.” The APA briefing paper on the subject says: “Well-designed studies of psychological responses following abortion have consistently shown that risk of psychological harm is low. Some women experience psychological dysfunction following abortion, but post-abortion rates of distress and dysfunction are lower than pre-abortion rates.”

The APA briefing sounds very much like the Planned Parenthood statement but very different from Professor Fergusson’s assessment of the current research. His view is that “women need to be advised that there have been ongoing and as yet unresolved debates about the extent to which abortion may be associated with adverse mental health outcomes.”

It seems to me that when researchers of pro-life and pro-choice perspectives suggest that “the preponderance of good science indicates a need to revise policy,” it is time to rev up those mechanisms the APA has in place.

After all, 1989 was a long time ago.

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