Efforts to Manipulate Science, Dismiss Women’s Post-Abortion Problems Continue

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Effort to Manipulate Science, Dismiss Women’s Post-Abortion Problems Continue

by Priscilla K. Coleman
September 2, 2009

LifeNews.com Note: Dr. Priscilla Coleman is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She is one of the leading researchers into the aftereffects of abortion for women, especially related to potential mental health concerns.

Robinson, Stotland, Russo, Lang, and Occhiogrosso recently published a paper in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry entitled “Is there an ‘Abortion Trauma Syndrome?’ Critiquing the Evidence.”

This is the latest in a series of attempts to review the world literature on abortion and mental health in an effort to "substantiate" the claim that abortion does not carry risks for psychological harm.

Prior efforts included the American Psychological Association’s Task Force Report and a review piece published by Johns Hopkins University researchers in the journal Contraception.

In the most recent review, the authors’ primary conclusion that "the most well-controlled studies continue to demonstrate that there is no convincing evidence that induced abortion of an unwanted pregnancy is per se a significant risk factor for psychiatric illness" is entirely unfounded for serious scientifically-based reasons.

A few of the problems are highlighted below.

1) The most glaring problem with the article is the arbitrary number of papers selected to review and the manner in which the authors chose particular published reports to analyze.

The authors mention having identified 216 peer-reviewed papers on the topic of abortion and mental health and then note selection of a sample of studies that "exemplify common errors in research methodology" as well as "major articles that attempt to correct the flaws."

Their choice of studies in each category was based on the conclusions derived as opposed to the integrity of the designs.

Numerous methodologically sound studies that have yielded results counter to the authors’ politically driven conclusion are entirely ignored with no rationale offered. In a valid scientific review, criteria for selection (e.g., sample size, representativeness, type of comparison group, how well controlled it is, etc.) are specified at the outset and then the results of each study meeting the criteria are examined to identify general trends.

This review lacks a systematic methodology for selection of studies to evaluate rendering the conclusions entirely invalid.

Studies that were omitted from the review are detailed below and readers are encourage to visit www.standapart.org, the web site for the Alliance for Post-Abortion Research and Training, which provides straightforward, systematic, unbiased synopses of the literature including details pertaining to the studies left out of the review that are listed below.

• Coleman, P. K. (2006). Resolution of unwanted pregnancy during adolescence through abortion versus childbirth: Individual and family predictors and psychological consequences. The Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 903-911.
• Coleman, P. K. et al. (2009), Induced Abortion and Anxiety, Mood, and Substance Abuse Disorders: Isolating the Effects of Abortion in the National Comorbidity Survey. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 43, 770-776.
• Coleman, P.K., & Nelson, E.S. (1998). The quality of abortion decisions and college students’ reports of post-abortion emotional sequelae and abortion attitudes. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 17, 425-442.
• Coleman, P. K., Reardon, D. C., & Cougle, J. (2005). Substance use among pregnant women in the context of previous reproductive loss and desire for current pregnancy. British Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 255-268.
• Dingle, K., et al. (2008). Pregnancy loss and psychiatric disorders in young women: An Australian birth cohort study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 193, 455-460.
• Fayote, F.O., Adeyemi, A.B., Oladimeji, B.Y. (2004). Emotional distress and its correlates. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 5, 504-509.
• Fergusson, D.M. et al. (2008). Abortion and mental health disorders: Evidence from a 30-year longitudinal study, The British Journal of Psychiatry, 193, 444-451.
• Hope, T. L., Wilder, E. I., & Watt, T. T. (2003). The relationships among adolescent pregnancy, pregnancy resolution, and juvenile delinquency, The Sociological Quarterly, 44, 555-576.
• Miller, W. B., Pasta, D. J., & Dean, C. L. (1998). Testing a model of the psychological consequences of abortion. In L. J. Beckman and S. M. Harvey (eds). The new civil war: The psychology, culture, and politics of abortion. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
• Pedersen W. (2008). Abortion and depression: A population-based longitudinal study of young women. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 36 (4):424-8.
• Pedersen, W. (2007). Addiction. Childbirth, abortion and subsequent substance use in young women: a population-based longitudinal study, 102 (12), 1971-78.
• Pope, L. M. et al. (2001). Post-abortion psychological adjustment: Are minors at increased risk? Journal of Adolescent Health, 29, 2-11.
• Reardon, D. C., Coleman, P. K., & Cougle, J. (2004) Substance use associated with prior history of abortion and unintended birth: A national cross sectional cohort study.
Am. Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 26, 369-383.
• Reardon D.C., Ney, P.G. (2002) Abortion and subsequent substance abuse. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 26, 61-75.
• Rees, D. I. & Sabia, J. J. (2007) The relationship between abortion and depression: New evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Medical Science Monitor, 13(10), 430-36.
• Sivuha, S. Predictors of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Following Abortion in a Former Soviet Union Country. Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psych & Health,17, 41-61 (2002).
• Slade, P., Heke, S., Fletcher, J., & Stewart, P. (1998). A comparison of medical and surgical methods of termination of pregnancy: Choice, psychological consequences, and satisfaction with care. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology,105,1288-95.
• Söderberg et al. (1998). Emotional distress following induced abortion. A study of its incidence and determinants among abortees in Malmö, Sweden. European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology 79, 173-8.
• Suliman et al. (2007) Comparison of pain, cortisol levels, and psychological distress in women undergoing surgical termination of pregnancy under local anaesthesia vs. intravenous sedation. BMC Psychiatry, 7 (24), p.1-9.
• Suri, R, Altshuler, L., Hendrick, V. et al. (2004). The impact of depression and fluoxetine treatment on obstetrical outcome. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 7, 193-200.

2) Another major problem with the review is the use of very dated sources to make sweeping claims. For example, on the first page, the risk of death from abortion in the U.S. is reported as 1:160,000 with reference to a single 1992 citation.

A brief sampling of problems with this statistic is offered below:

a. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9) defines maternal death as one that occurs during pregnancy or within 42 days of the termination of pregnancy. Pregnancy-associated deaths occurring outside this window are not captured in the data.

b. Coding rule 12 of the ICD-9 requires deaths due to medical and surgical treatments to be reported under the complication of the procedure (e.g., infection) rather than the treatment (e.g., elective abortion).

c. Most women leave abortion clinics within hours of the procedure and go to hospital emergency rooms if there are complications. The data reported by abortion clinics to state health departments and ultimately to the CDC therefore under-represents abortion morbidity and mortality.

d. Abortion reporting is not required by federal law and only 27 states report abortion complications.

e. The abortion-related mortality rates typically fail to factor in abortions beyond the first trimester, which constitute 12-13% of al abortions [1-2]. Using national U.S. data spanning the years from 1988 to 1997, Bartlett and colleagues reported the relative risk of mortality was 14.7 per 100,000 at 13–15 weeks of gestation, 29.5 at 16-20 weeks, and 76.6 at or after 21 weeks [3].

1. Jones, R.K., Zolna, M.R., Henshaw, S. K. & Finer L.B. (2008). Abortion in the United States: Incidence and Access to Services, 2005. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 40, 6-16.

2. Gamble, S.B., Strauss, L.T. Parker, W. Y., Cook, D. A. Zane, S. B., & Hamdan, S. (2008). Abortion Surveillance – United States, 2005. MMWR Surveillance Summaries 57 (SS-13). Atlanta, Ga: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services.

3. Bartlett, L. A. et al. (2004). Risk Factors for Legal Induced Abortion-Related Mortality in the United States. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 103 (4), 729–37.

d. At least 50% of women who have aborted deny the experience and therefore the medical records of
many women who have aborted are not likely to contain an accurate history.

e. Suicide deaths are rarely, if ever, linked back to abortion in state reporting of death rates. Further,
suicides are often not recorded on death certificates.

3) Studies pertaining to increased risk for substance abuse are omitted just as they were in the Contraception report. Substance abuse disorders are widely accepted mental health problems and they have been implicated in anxiety and mood disorders.

4) The review seems to have been put together rather hastily as two of the studies (#23 which is Fergusson and colleagues’ 2006 paper published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines and #39 which is a paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by Reardon et al. in 2003) had findings contradicting their conclusion, yet these studies are cited among others as supporting their claims.

5) A final point to consider, the Impact Factor (IF) for the journal that published this review is considerably lower than that of most of the journals where the omitted studies were published.

The IF indicates the number of citations to articles published in science and social science journals and it is a widely accepted indicator of the relative importance of a journal to the developing knowledge of a field. If this review article truly had merit, surely it would have been published in one of the leading journals.

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