Media Mislead on Abortion-Mental Health Risks for Women

Opinion   |   Michael New   |   Mar 27, 2012   |   4:11PM   |   Washington, DC

In recent weeks a number of mainstream media outlets have devoted extensive coverage to errors that were made in a recent Journal of Psychiatric Research article authored by Bowling Green professor Priscilla Coleman. The original article found solid statistical evidence that abortion leads to a range of mental problems among women. These include depression, alcohol abuse, and PTSD. However, according to her mainstream media critics, these errors invalidate her findings.

After reading the coverage, one wishes that the reporters who are covering the story would actually bother to read both Professor Coleman’s original article and her response. After the original article was published in 2009, Coleman and her co-authors discovered a problem with the sampling weight used to conduct the original analysis. They promptly re-analyzed the data with the correct weight and wrote a corrigendum that was subsequently published by the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

Contrary to what much of the mainstream media is reporting, the results did not change much. The original article found that abortion led to a statistically significant increase in the likelihood of 15 mental-health problems. The new results indicate the abortion leads to a statistically significant increase in the likelihood of 11 mental-health problems. Again, contrary to what the mainstream media is reporting — most of the original findings held.

However, that has not stopped countless media outlets including the New York Times and the Washington Post from attacking the Professor Coleman’s research.

Essentially these media outlets are using the sampling error to give Guttmacher Institute analysts a megaphone to attack the research. These analysts have not focused on the sampling error, but instead have taken great pains to criticize the research methodology used by Coleman. The issues are somewhat technical. However, the concerns about the methodology are largely irrelevant to the situation. The methodology that Coleman used in both the original article and the corrected version was deemed satisfactory by the both outside referees and the journal editor. As such the methodological concerns seem largely overblown.

In reality, there is a substantial body of peer-reviewed research which documents the negative psychological health impacts of abortion.

In 2011 Professor Coleman published a meta-analysis which included the results of over 22 peer-reviewed studies incorporating data from 877,181 women. This meta-analysis offered the largest estimate of mental-health risks associated with abortion. It appeared in the British Journal of Psychology, one of the most prestigious psychology journals in the world, and provided plenty of evidence that abortion leads to a range of mental health problems. Of course, it should come as no surprise that this study received scant coverage from mainstream media outlets. Note: Dr. Michael New is a political science professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a fellow at Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.