“Post-Abortion Syndrome” is a Major Logic Fail

In 2009, Priscilla Coleman of Bowling State University and her colleagues published an analysis of the National Comorbidity Study and concluded that women who reported having had an abortion were at higher risk for anxiety, mood disorders and substance abuse than women who did not report having an abortion. Julia Steinberg of the University of California, San Francisco, and Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute recently reviewed the data (read their report) and reject Coleman’s finding.

After analyzing the same data from the National Comorbidity Study, Steinberg and Finer refute the causal link between abortion and mental health issues.  From the Washington Post:

“We were unable to reproduce the most basic tabulations of Coleman and colleagues,” Steinberg said in a statement released with the paper. “Moreover, their findings were logically inconsistent with other published research — for example, they found higher rates of depression in the last month than other studies found during respondents’ entire lifetimes. This suggests that the results were substantially inflated.”

What they did find was a that women who had multiple abortions were more likely to have pre-existing mental health disorders and to have experienced sexual or physical violence before the abortion, compared with women who had had one or no abortions. Taking that into consideration, researchers found no significant link between abortion history and substance abuse or mood and anxiety disorders. Not only does that finding dispute Coleman’s bogus claims, it reminds us that when thinking about supposed “mental health risks of abortion,” to use our common sense.

The reality is that most women who get abortions do not choose to do so for so-called “frivolous” reasons, as the Pro-Lifers would like us to believe. Often times there are a lot of overlapping factors that go into that decision. While plenty of women DO NOT experience depression after having an abortion, some certainly do. But suggesting that this link is causal – that abortion causes depression – is ignoring a whole piece of the puzzle and just bad logic.  Mental health is inextricably linked to situational circumstances, and the same kinds of circumstances that could lead to one needing an abortion are also ones that could affect mental health. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: correlation, not causation.

Let’s say a woman is raped and becomes pregnant from that assault. Or let’s say she becomes pregnant because her partner refuses to use contraception and she cannot afford to support or care for any more children. Or maybe she had a health condition that makes it really dangerous to continue the pregnancy. Or maybe she’s 16 and her parents will kick her out on the streets if they found out she was pregnant. So she gets an abortion, and she is also depressed.

Saying that she has “post-abortion syndrome” is kind of like saying that a woman who has to leave home to escape from an abusive partner and goes to a hotel is depressed because she’s suffering from “post-hotel syndrome.” Or that a victim of a vicious bear mauling is depressed because she is suffering from “post-reconstructive-surgery syndrome.”  She’s not depressed because she went to a hotel or had a medical procedure. She’s depressed because of the circumstances surrounding it.

And yes, often times the circumstances surrounding the decision to abort are depressing. If Pro-Lifers were actually concerned with women’s mental health, they would be working to improve those conditions (poverty, homelessness, rape, misogyny, sex education, healthcare) instead of working to take away access to a procedure that is most often chosen in order to prevent and alleviate further strain.

This study is just another example of how Pro-Lifers value the *airquotes* life of the fetus over the actual, real-life LIVES of women, and how they are ready to manipulate the truth in order to get what they want.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for this. It’s high time people were given the truth instead of myths and moralizing.


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