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Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC

Abortion Leads to Mental Illness? DEBUNKED...once again

By March 7, 2012

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So I realize that there is still debate around whether abortion leads to subsequent mental health issues... after all, crisis pregnancy centers rely on this scare tactic to make women feel panicked about considering abortion. Even though a panel of the American Psychological Association reported back in August 2008 (after two years of research examining over150 studies) that there's no evidence that a single abortion causes mental health issues... though they acknowledged that some women who choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy may experience feelings of grief and loss, this does not reach the magnitude of mental illness.

But some shoty research published in 2009 in the Journal of Psychiatric Research by Priscilla Coleman and her fellow researchers may have heightened these concerns again. Coleman alleged that their study revealed a relationship between past abortions and mental disorders that were present "at the time of data collection, providing assurance that in most cases, the abortion preceded the diagnosis," -- thereby supposedly supporting a causal relationship between abortion and subsequent mental health. Without saying, this article raised eyebrows and red flags all around.

So news reporters as well as other researchers began to examine the Coleman study. According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the Guttmacher Institute, there is no doubt that Coleman's study had fundamental analytical errors that render its conclusions invalid. This conclusion has been confirmed by the editor of the Journal of Psychiatric Research in which the study appeared. Most egregiously, Coleman's study did not distinguish between mental health outcomes that occurred before abortions and those that occurred afterward, yet she still had the audacity to conclude that her data indicate having an abortion makes it likely that you will then have a mental disorder.

Coleman was called out in the March 2012 Journal of Psychiatric Research issue where, in a letter to the editor, UCSF's Julia Steinberg and Guttmacher's Lawrence Finer describe the study's serious methodological errors -- mainly the findings were not replicable. Notably, the journal's editor concluded in an accompanying commentary that "the Steinberg-Finer critique has considerable merit," and that the Coleman paper utilized a "flawed" methodology; likewise, "the Coleman et al. (2009) analysis does not support [the authors'] assertions."

Julia Steinberg, an assistant professor in UCSF's Department of Psychiatry explains,

"This is not a scholarly difference of opinion; their facts were flatly wrong. This was an abuse of the scientific process to reach conclusions that are not supported by the data... The shifting explanations and misleading statements that they offered over the past two years served to mask their serious methodological errors."

Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute discusses,

"Studies claiming to find a causal association between abortion and subsequent mental health problems often suffer from serious methodological limitations that invalidate their conclusions... In thorough reviews, the highest-quality studies have found no causal link between abortion and subsequent mental health problems."

That said part of this whole story is that when bogus research is discovered, many politicians jump on these studies and that often lead to awful consequences. False studies that erroneously fuel the debate the abortion is linked to mental illness are used to justify mandatory counseling laws -- where many states now require women seeking an abortion to receive  "supposedly" medically accurate information, but that, in all actuality,  have no basis in fact. Among other terrible lies, mandatory counseling may require that a woman be told that having an abortion increases her risk of breast cancer, infertility and mental illness. Yet, none of these claims are medically true. These laws not only represent a gross intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, but they also serve to propagate falsehoods...  intentionally misinforming the women on important medical matters.

So while the crisis pregnancy centers and other scare tactic websites revere such research -- even though it is misleading and not grounded in any facts, my kudos go out to "true" researchers... those unbiased folks who simply are looking for the TRUTH...no agenda. So, I see this one as a victory... for TRUTH... science has now, ONCE AGAIN, been able to set straight one of the "supposedly" strongest studies claiming a link between abortion and mental illness. So for all those concerned... there is no evidence to show that having an abortion leads to mental issues. Coleman and friends... you have been DEBUNKED! Hopefully, many of you may be able to sleep better now.

And please spread the word... the best way to dispel such untruths is through the power of word.  Repost this blog on your Twitter or Facebook walls. You can also EMAIL this blog to your friends ... let them know that if considering having an abortion, not to let the fear of it triggering a lifetime of mental illness factor into their thought processes.


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Photo Courtesy of Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

March 13, 2012 at 8:38 am
(1) Ann says:

As you encouraged your readers to share your DEBUNKED article, I’m curious to see whether you will post this and encourage it to be shared far and wide as well.

Dr. Priscilla Coleman Responds to Recent Media Attacks

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.

March 13, 2012 at 8:39 am
(2) Ann says:

More on Coleman (character limit cut off previous message):

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.

October 25, 2012 at 4:30 pm
(3) Lisa says:

I totally agree with the last two comments. We do not know how many women have been affected by the abortion ordeal. We can criticize all we can but the insider knows herself better than the outsider does. I do believe that while abortion may not be distressful to others it may be to others who may be the minority in this case. I guess this is why some researchers feel that there is no link between abortion and mental stress. As much as possible there is need for us all to be empathetic.
If you know Bob Marley’s Song. “He who feels it knows it” then you would give this a second thought.
Please excuse my comments if they are out of the extraordinary.
Thank you for reading this.

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