Researcher defends study linking abortion to mental health problems
December 22, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A report issued by Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) which attempts to debunk a previous study linking abortion to mental illness has major flaws, according to the author of the original study.
Bowling Green State University professor Priscilla Coleman authored a meta-analysis of 22 studies that tracked a total of 877,181 women, 163,831 of them post-abortive, and concluded that there was strong correlation between abortion and mental health problems.
The results of Coleman’s study were published in the August 2011 issue of the prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry, prompting controversy within the academic community. Coleman was accused of pro-life bias, and some critics called for the BJP to retract the article.
The RCP study went a step further, attempting to debunk Coleman’s study with its own meta-analysis which found that, while there was an association between unintended pregnancies and mental illness, there was no difference between those who gave birth and those who had their children aborted.
In a critique published last week by National Right to Life News, Coleman called the RCP report “a crafty abuse of science,” and said that its conclusions should be rejected.
According to Coleman, the RCP employed a problematic standard in choosing which studies to include and which to exclude from its analysis.
She notes that the most common reason given for excluding certain studies is “the nebulously defined ‘no usable data,’” and the short-range nature of the study. Any study with 90 days or less of follow up after the abortion was automatically excluded by the RCP.
“When investigating the mental health implications of an event, it is logical to measure outcomes soon after the event has occurred as opposed to waiting months or years to gather data,” Coleman wrote. “As more time elapses between the stressor and the outcome(s), healing may naturally occur, there may be events that moderate the effects, and more confounding variables may be introduced.”
She added: “Focusing only on mental health events that occur later in time effectively misses the serious and more acute episodes that are effectively treated soon after exposure.”
She said that many of the studies excluded by the RCP because they were short-term were in fact stronger scientific studies, controlling for factors such as previous psychological history.
Ironically, the RCP report actually accuses Coleman of failing to control for previous psychological history in her analysis. Coleman points out that her own review of 22 studies included 14 with controls for psychological history. In the RCP report, only 7 of the 34 studies examined have this control.
Coleman also critiques the RCP’s “quality scale” by which it rates the quality of the various studies, writing that the scale “require[s] a significant level of subjective interpretation, opening the results to considerable bias.”
She says that the criteria employed also appear arbitrary, leaving out key features by which one would normally judge the quality of a study, such as the retention rate of study participants.
The end result, Coleman says, is a report that will only diminish the ability of mental health professionals to help post-abortive women.
“How many of these purposefully driven ‘systematic reviews’ have to be published with results splashed all over the world, before women’s psychological health will finally take precedence over political, economic, and ideological agendas?” Coleman asks.
She concludes: “Until there is acknowledgement tha[t] scores of women suffer from their decision to undergo an abortion, we will remain in the dark ages relative to the development of treatment protocols, training of professionals, and our ability to compassionately assist women to achieve the understanding and closure they need to resume healthy lives.”
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