The MBTA should not allow advertising from crisis pregnancy centers

The MBTA is where you’ll usually find ads for Jamba juice and Jansport backpacks, local research studies, and public health campaigns. Currently, though, much of this highly-coveted space is occupied by ads for Daybreakinc.org, an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center. The ads don’t tell you that Daybreak has an anti-abortion agenda; they claim to offer “compassion,” “empowerment,” “hope,” and most inaccurately, “options.” This is in fact the major criticism of crisis pregnancy centers—that they misrepresent themselves as neutral parties. They are not, and they should not be allowed to advertise their heavily-biased and manipulative services on the MBTA.

The point of a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) is to keep pregnant women from having abortions, often by delaying them with offers of pregnancy tests and ultrasounds until it’s too late. What is truly sinister about CPCs is their use of untrue or misleading information to scare women away from choosing abortion, with false claims such as: abortion causes breast cancer, abortion is psychologically damaging, abortion can lead to sterility, and birth-control pills cause abortion. A 2006 Congressional investigation found that 87 percent of the centers surveyed provided false or misleading medical information.

Daybreak is guilty of this type of misinformation, although they are careful not to appear so on their website. It’s no wonder they are covering their behinds—legal action has been taken against CPCs in a number of states regarding their deceptive advertising in New York, California, Ohio, Missouri, and North Dakota.

According to their website, Daybreak claims to provide “accurate information about pregnancy, fetal development, lifestyle issues, and related concerns” as well as offer “accurate information about abortion procedures and risks.” They say “our advertising and communications are truthful and honest and accurately describe the services we offer.” But when you dig in deeper, you will find a sample if misleading and just plain untrue “facts” on their website:

  • Daybreak claims: “[Plan B] It may alter the uterine lining which prevents the fertilized egg from implanting, resulting in an early abortion.” (This is wrong—the dissolution of a fertilized egg is NOT “early abortion.”)
  • Daybreak claims: “Complications may happen in as many as 1 out of every 100 early abortions,” when according to the Guttmacher Institute, “the risk of abortion complications is minimal: Fewer than 0.3% of abortion patients experience a complication that requires hospitalization.”
  • Daybreak claims: “Women who have experienced abortion may develop the following symptoms: guilt, grief, anger, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, difficulty bonding with partner or children, eating disorder,” when the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion reported that “the best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.”
  • On the particularly appalling “For Men” section of the Daybreak website, they write: “Many women who have had abortions report that they were waiting for their boyfriends/husbands to stop them. Some even say that they sat on the table hoping the father of their baby would ‘rush through the door to rescue me and take me away somewhere safe.’” (Um, citation needed?)

I’m not trying to make the argument that free pregnancy counseling is a bad thing or that the people at Daybreak are “bad” people, but pregnancy counseling, or any counseling for that matter, should be unbiased and informative. No where on the Daybreak MBTA ads are women informed that the the “free pregnancy counseling” is actually anti-abortion counseling, and that is dishonest, manipulative, and ultimately wrong. Women facing unplanned pregnancies need to know all their options, without the implication that one is better than another, and they need real medical information, not the “facts” listed above.

The MBTA is currently under fire for proposed fare increases and service cuts. They may be desperate for funds, but that does not excuse this moral misstep. CPCs are a growing threat to women’s health and the MBTA is the last place Bostonians should be exposed to anti-abortion propaganda.

“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.