Abortion and Psychology

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 18, 2007 | Go to article overview

Abortion and Psychology


Byline: Warren Throckmorton, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Supreme Court's recent decision banning partial-birth abortion has renewed public interest in abortion politics and policy. Despite the infrequency of late-term abortions, the ban is significant because it strikes at one rationale for the general availability of abortion: the potential negative mental-health consequences for women who carry a child to term. Many late-terms abortions are performed for such reasons. For instance, in 1999, mental-health concerns were cited by the abortion provider in all 182 partial-birth procedures in Kansas.

Thus, both pro-choice and pro-life camps are gearing up for more debate over the mental-health consequences of abortion. In a fight, political or otherwise, it is good to have influential allies. In the abortion debate, pro-choice advocates historically have counted on the support of the powerful American Psychological Association.

Abortion and the APA have a relationship that predates Roe v. Wade. Rewinding to 1969, the APA became an early player in the public debate with the following resolution:

WHEREAS, termination of unwanted pregnancies is clearly a mental health and child welfare issue, and a legitimate concern of APA; be it resolved, that termination of pregnancy be considered a civil right of the pregnant woman, to be handled as other medical and surgical procedures in consultation with her physician...

Fast forward to 2007; the APA recently convened a task force called the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion According to APA spokeswoman Rhea Farberman, the committee will conduct an updated review of the published scientific literature on the potential impact of abortion on women's mental health. The committee has met once and is slated to report its findings in 2008.

Does the appointment of this committee signal a possible change in APA policy toward abortion? Very likely, the answer is no.

Periodically, pro-life psychologists have urged the APA to examine claims that abortion may lead to negative mental health consequences for some women. In 1989, the APA convened a task force to review research on the topic and found little risk of psychological harm. However, just over a year ago, a New Zealand based pro-choice researcher, David Fergusson, released a study that re-ignited the debate over the mental-health effects of abortion.

In a well-designed longitudinal study, Dr. Fergusson found abortion was associated with depression and other negative mental-health outcomes. Dr. Fergusson's team criticized the APA's position statement on abortion consequences, which stated, "Well-designed studies of psychological responses following abortion have consistently shown that risk of psychological harm is low. Some women experience psychological dysfunction following abortion, but post-abortion rates of distress and dysfunction are lower than pre-abortion rates."

Dr. Fergusson believed the APA position ignored results of studies such as his which found contradictory results.

For a 2006 article, I interviewed Dr. Nancy Russo, long-time APA luminary and defender of abortion rights, about Dr. …

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