Study ‘Debunking’ Teen Abortion/Depression Link Flawed: Expert
By Kathleen Gilbert
NEW YORK, September 27, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A study that concluded that teenagers suffer no psychological harm from abortion, and that has captured headlines in major newspapers today, is undermined by “a number of problems” in its methodology, according to an expert in the field.
The Guttmacher Institute, which was founded by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, announced the results of the study Friday, claiming that "teens who have abortions are no more likely to become depressed or have low self-esteem than their peers whose pregnancies do not end in abortion."
The study, led by Jocelyn T. Warren and S. Marie Harvey of Oregon State University, and Jillian Henderson of the University of California, based its findings on data collected from 292 teenage girls who reported completing at least one pregnancy during 1994-96.
The researchers said that of the 69 girls who said their pregnancies ended in abortion there was no higher incidence of depression or low self-esteem in the second or third phases of the survey.
Based upon these findings the authors concluded that state laws mandating abortion-bound women be warned of the mental health effects of the procedure "may jeopardize women's health by adding unnecessary anxiety and undermining women's right to informed consent."
But one expert on the psychological effects of abortion on women says she finds the conclusions of the abortion-funded research institute less than credible.
Dr. Priscilla Coleman, an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University and an expert on the psychological trauma of post-abortive women, told LifeSiteNews.com that "it really wasn't a very good study. There's a number of problems."
Coleman pointed out that the sample of women who aborted was very small. The authors themselves acknowledge this fact, saying, “The lack of association between abortion and our outcomes could reflect other factors including insufficient sample size to detect an effect.”
The professor also criticized the superficiality of the means to assess outcome, which used only 9 items to detect depression and 4 to measure self-esteem. In addition, said Coleman, "The comparison group could have been unintended pregnancy carried to term since the data is available in ADD Health, but the researchers chose the less appropriate and broader 'no abortion' group."
Coleman pointed out that she herself published a 2006 study using the same data, incorporating unintended pregnancy carried to term as the control group, and found that abortion history was associated with a six-fold increased risk of marijuana use, a five-fold increased likelihood of reporting having sought counseling for psychological and emotional problems, and a four-fold increased risk of experiencing sleeping difficulties (Coleman, P. K. (2006). Resolution of unwanted pregnancy during adolescence through abortion versus childbirth: Individual and family predictors and psychological consequences. The Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 903-911.)
"Seeking professional counseling services is a more valid measure of psychological distress than abbreviated self-report measures, one of which is merely 'predictive of depression,'" she said.
Coleman also criticized the lack of control variables employed "despite the fact that ADD health contains dozens of personal history, personality, relationship, situational, familial, and demographic variables that could have been controlled."
Coleman was author of a study released in August finding high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms for post-abortive women, with 52 percent of the early abortion group and 67 percent of the late term abortion group in the study meeting the American Psychological Association's criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms (PTSD).
The authors of the recent study claimed to support a "professional consensus" on the issue, and prefaced the findings by pointing to a 2008 study by an American Psychological Association task force that concluded there was no meaningful association between abortion and later psychological disturbances in women.
However, the credibility of that study was seriously called into question when it was revealed by a pro-life research group that Brenda Major, the pro-abortion lead author of the study, violated the APA's own data sharing rules by refusing to release her full data on abortion and mental health effects. In her own critique of the APA study, Coleman said that the authors failed to provide accurate data by only selectively reporting previous literature reviews, ignoring large groups of studies indicating negative post-abortion effects, and giving more weight to studies that painted abortion in a favorable light.
Testimonies of deep psychological scarring following abortion, including crippling depression, drug abuse, and suicide attempts are frequently delivered by women who have spoken up about their abortion experience via the Silent No More Awareness campaign.
Editor's note 9.28.10: a representative of Guttmacher Institute has informed LifeSiteNews that the study was not conducted by the Institute, but only published by them. The same representative also noted that Guttmacher is now technically unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood. We have changed the article and apologize for any error.