26 August 2008 Vol. 10 / No. 34
The APA Trades Science For Politics . . . Again
The American Psychological Association (APA) has arbitrarily decided that abortion doesn’t hurt women. Ever.
In a new draft report on released on August 12th by the secretly appointed “Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion,” the APA flatly claims that there is no evidence that abortion leads to psychological problems in women. According to the APA, “the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.” Really.
This task force reached their conclusions “scientifically,” or so they say. They claim to have evaluated “all empirical studies published in English in peer-reviewed journals post-1989” that compared the “mental health” of women who had received abortions to women who had not. In fact, they based their findings on a single study, ignoring the growing body of research pointing toward the adverse psychological effects of abortion.
Numerous scholarly studies have in fact appeared in publications as diverse as the European Journal of Public Health, to the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. For example, studies by Dr. David C. Reardon of the Elliot Institute show that substantial numbers of post-abortive women suffer a post-traumatic stress disorder similar to that experienced by war veterans. Other studies show strong evidence of psychological and emotional damage lasting for years following an abortion.
A number of post-abortion counseling agencies, like Safe Haven Ministries and Project Rachel, have arisen to help women deal with their guilt and emotional trauma. These agencies, which overflow with patients, are clearly meeting real needs.
The APA is aware of this research into post-abortion trauma, but chooses to ignore it. Almost flippantly, it dismisses the “majority of the published literature” as having “methodological problems, often severe in nature.” At the same time, it insists that its own study “emphasized the studies it judged to be most methodologically rigorous to arrive at its conclusions.” Why bother to address decades of scientific research if you can simply write it off as unreliable?
This sounds curiously like Planned Parenthood’s official line on post-abortion trauma, which is to simply deny that it exists, while attacking the motives of pro-lifers for even bringing up the issue. According to Planned Parenthood, post-abortion stress was invented by pro-lifers to keep women in the dark about abortion. “The fact is that anti-abortion groups have invented this so-called post-abortion syndrome to further their efforts to make abortion illegal and unsafe,” says Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Cullins. “The anti-choice studies that claim to prove its existence are very flawed.”
The APA’s ideological bias in this report is so evident that a member of this professional body has broken ranks to oppose it. Dr. Rachel M. MacNair, a member of the APA’s Board of Division 48, accuses the APA of reinventing science to serve its ideology.
“We have known for a long time that the word ‘choice’ in the abortion debate doesn’t mean what it means in regular English,” MacNair writes in a recent article entitled “Tales From an Insider: How The APA Denied Abortion’s Mental Health Risks.” “Now we find that ‘science’ means what the American Psychological Association (APA) says it means, rather than what those of us trained in a university might have been taught.”
MacNair reveals that the APA’s task force was selected without peer review and without balance, pointing out that there was never any “call for nominations. Membership had been decided by Division 35, psychology of women, and the Council apparently rubber-stamped the selection.” In addition to this, MacNair states that three of the task force’s six members were “outspoken defenders of abortion, and the remaining three had no public statements of positions.”
MacNair also points out that the APA’s assertion that the task force proclamation was based upon a collection of studies is patently false. According to MacNair, the APA based its conclusions on only one study, and in the end even this study did not even support its pro-abortion conclusions. “I was startled to dig in and realize that the new rationale for the conclusion was based on only one study,” MacNair recalls. “(The study used) British women where there was a screening requirement we don’t have in the U.S . . . the study doesn’t support the conclusion, since it did find more drug overdoses in women who had abortions compared to others.”
“We don’t draw such a sweeping conclusion from only one study,” she continues scathingly. “Setting aside the quality of the study itself, citing only one study in support of a politically-desired conclusion cannot be explained in any other way than a politically-motivated exercise. This is not a debatable point. This is Quantitative Research 101.”
If the APA wishes to be taken seriously as a scientific organization, it had better do its homework before publishing its “conclusions.” Its new report is simply ideology masquerading as science. It besmirches the name of the organization in whose name it was published.
Colin Mason is the Director of Media production at PRI.