The Truth: Abortion Prompts Women’s Mental Health Problems

Opinion   |   Dr. Priscilla Coleman   |   Mar 12, 2012   |   1:20PM   |   Washington, DC

Over the past few days there has been a great deal of press concerning a peer-reviewed article I published in 2009 with co-authors Dr. Catherine Coyle, Dr. Vincent Rue, and Dr. Martha Shuping in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

The analyses in this paper employed data from the National Comorbidity Survey with a large number of significant associations detected between abortion and various mood, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.

A problem with the sampling weight applied to conduct the original analyses was detected in 2011. When this issue was brought to our attention, we promptly re-analyzed the data with the correct weight applied and the overall pattern of results did not change remarkably.  We wrote a corrigendum that was subsequently published by the Journal of Psychiatric Research, and corrected values were incorporated into the meta-analysis on abortion and mental health published by the British Journal of Psychiatry in September 2011. The 2009 paper was one of 22 studies included in the meta-analysis.

We responsibly addressed this error and the paper was never retracted by the journal. Interestingly the dozens of mainstream U.S. journalists who pounced on this situation and irresponsibly described the results as unreliable, invalid, debunked, etc. were absolutely silent when the meta-analysis was published last fall. This meta-analysis appeared in one of the most prestigious psychiatry journals in the world and the quantitative review incorporating data from 877,181 women offered the largest estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion in the world literature.

A corrected error in a single study that reported associations between abortion and mental health is apparently more news worthy than a major meta-analysis.

This is an excellent example of the media bias that permeates the study of abortion and mental health.

Who are the victims here? Certainly not researchers, such as myself; I will continue to actively study this topic and encourage others to do the same. The victims of this irresponsible journalism are the millions of women, who have not easily moved beyond an abortion, suffered psychologically, and found very little assistance from the medical and psychological community. Continued mainstream efforts to deny the significant distress that easily affects a minimum of 20% of those who abort are dishonest and disrespectful.

Moreover, such efforts have, and will become even less effective, because we all likely know at least one person, who has had trouble coming to terms with an abortion experience. These women are everywhere and their voices are echoed in honestly collected and reported data. Note: Dr. Priscilla Coleman is a Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University.