Researcher: Coverage of abortion-mental illness link ‘an excellent example’ of media bias
BOWLING GREEN, OHIO, March 12, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – A professor at the center of a controversy over the link between abortion and mental illness has responded to her critics, charging the media with biased coverage that is misleading the public on a critical issue relevant to public health.
Dr. Priscilla Coleman, a professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, published a 2009 study in for the Journal of Psychiatric Research finding a high incidence of mental health issues in post-abortive women. After the journal’s editor-in-chief co-authored an editorial criticizing the study, the mainstream media reported that abortion’s negative psychological impact had been “debunked.”
Dr. Coleman told LifeSiteNews.com her study joined 21 others included in her meta-analysis that incorporated data from 877,181 women. She called her analysis, which was published last September in the British Journal of Psychiatry, “the largest estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion in the world literature.”
Media coverage of the flap ignored the findings of the 21 other studies.
“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,” Dr. Coleman wrote in a statement e-mailed to LifeSiteNews.com. “This is an excellent example of the media bias that permeates the study of abortion and mental health.”
“There is not one study that would show that [if] people who have mental problems” have “an abortion, it makes their mental health better,” Dr. Martha Shuping, a North Carolina-based psychiatrist, told LifeSiteNews.com. “No, all the studies show it makes it worse.”
But widespread silence about these findings puts women at risk, Coleman said. “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,” she wrote.
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The tussle over her own study began shortly after it was published.
Coleman’s paper correlated data from the National Comorbidity Survey – a national study of mental health issues – to find a high association between abortion and mood, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.
In 2010, Julia Steinberg of the University of California-San Francisco, and Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute published a critique of her study. Coleman acknowledged an error with the sampling weight she had given different sets of data.
“We sincerely apologize to Dr. Schatzberg, the journal staff, and to the readers for this error,” she wrote in the Journal in 2011. “We would also like to express our appreciation to the researcher who brought this to the Editor’s attention, Dr. Schatzberg, and Dr. Kessler for their kind assistance. Fortunately the overall pattern of the results has not changed very much.”
Steinberg and Finer accused Coleman of improperly including women in her study who were mentally ill before obtaining an abortion.
In a letter to the editor of the Journal in January, Coleman wrote it was “certainly true” that that method made it “difﬁcult to ascertain whether or not the abortions preceded the documented mental health problems.” However, “we do know that the majority of mental health problems likely occurred after the abortions based on the following facts: 1) for nearly 70% of the participants in the sample, ﬁrst abortions occurred by age 21; 2) the average age of women who had aborted when the life-time data were obtained was 32.9 years, and only 4.4% of ﬁrst abortions occurred after this age; 3) [Ronald] Kessler et al. (2007) reported the median ages of onset for most anxiety, mood, and substance disorders in the U.S. to be between 25 and 53, 25 and 45, and 18 and 29 respectively.”
But one of the researchers she cited, Dr. Ronald Kessler, co-authored an editorial with JPR editor-in-chief Alan Schatzberg that concluded “the Steinberg-Finer critique has considerable merit and that the Coleman et. al. (2009) analysis does not support their assertions that abortions led to psychopathology in the NCS data.” The journal, however, did not retract Coleman’s article, as Finer and Steinberg requested. Instead, they suggested to better control the data, future studies should compare women who ended unwanted pregnancies through abortion with those who carried the child to term. “These strategies should be the focus of future research on the extent to which elective abortions lead to mental disorders,” they wrote.
Dr. Coleman vowed to continue her research as part of her new website, WeCareExperts.org.
“Continued mainstream efforts to deny the significant distress that easily affects a minimum of 20 percent of those who abort…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,” Coleman told LifeSiteNews.com. “These women are everywhere and their voices are echoed in honestly collected and reported data.”