WASHINGTON, DC, December, 9 2011 (C-FAM) - It did not take long for a new study finding a link between abortion and mental health to spark unfounded criticism of the paper and attacks against the author.

The prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry (BJP) recently published “Abortion and Mental Health: Quantitative Synthesis and Analysis of Research Published 1995-2009.” The paper, a culmination of Dr. Priscilla Coleman’s extensive experience in the field of abortion and mental health, finds that women who have undergone abortion have an 81% increase in the risk of mental health problems, and an even greater risk for substance misuse and suicidal behaviour (230% and 155% respectively). Nearly 10% of the incidence of all mental health problems was shown to be directly attributable to abortion.

Dr. Coleman uses a methodologically stringent criteria for the selection of studies. The sample encompasses 22 studies, 36 measurements of mental health effects and 877,181 participants of whom 163,831 had experienced an abortion.

One of the largest studies available on the subject, its robust conclusions warranted serious attention. 

And attention is what it got. The Irish Times, Washington Times and the Daily Telegraph in Britain as well as US and foreign pro-life organizations reported on it. The article appeared right at the time Conservative MP Nadine Dorries forwarded a proposal to end the monopoly of abortion providers, such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Marie Stopes International, to counsel on abortion.

Within the academic community, ad hominem attacks questioned Dr. Coleman’s scholarly objectivity, calling her an “anti-abortion campaigner” with an “agenda-driven bias” and “obvious conflict of interest” undermining her ability to critically review the primary studies. The journal allegedly failed to detect “egregious scientific errors” and left the readers to “sort through the serious flaws” themselves. Several critics called on BJP to retract the article. This reaction is in some way similar to the reaction British medical journal Lancet received when it reported in 2010 on false estimates made by the UN on maternal mortality.

Disparaging comments on the methodology apparently resulted from the failure to read Dr Coleman’s section on it.  Critics also ignored the data supplement with details on the selected studies. Dr Coleman’s methodology is sound, the selection criteria are clearly specified, and her strategy is in line with the generally accepted guidelines for meta-analysis.

One point of valid criticism recognized by Dr. Coleman is the heterogeneity of the underlying studies. In response, a follow-up meta-analysis was conducted by Professor David Fergusson of the University of Otago, Christchurch, that was limited only to studies that used an unwanted/unintended pregnancy comparison group. In this study (which is under review), the increased risk of developing mental health problems is lower than in Coleman’s, which uses several control groups. However, the results are the same: unswerving evidence that abortion is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems.

The study has implications for the women’s rights debate at the UN. Despite claims by abortion proponents and some UN staff that legal abortion fosters “the empowerment of women,” mounting scientific evidence demonstrates the opposite: women who undergo abortion face a higher risk of alcohol and marijuana abuse, depression, anxiety and suicide.

Among other things, the study’s implications for public health include the need for health practitioners to inform women of the possible effects of abortion on mental health. It further demonstrates that health systems should not consign women seeking abortion to be counseled by abortion groups who ignore findings of links between abortion and mental health.

Reprinted with permission from c-fam.org