Abortion Mental Health Link Deserves Congressional Hearings

Congressional Hearing on Abortion’s Link to Suicide and Mental Illness Needed

22 Year Delay of National Study on Abortion’s Mental Health
Risks is a Crime Against Women, Says Researcher

Springfield, IL (September 26, 2011) – In the wake of a new study
published by Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists showing that
abortion is linked to elevated rates of mental health problems, the
Elliot Institute is calling for congressional hearings to investigate
the risks of abortion to women and what abortion providers should do
to mitigate these risks.

The study published in the September issue of the British Journal of
Psychiatry found that 10 percent of mental health problems among
women, including 35 percent of suicidal behaviors, may be attributable
to abortion.   These findings were based on the combined results of
all studies published between 1995 and 2009 that met strict inclusion
criteria. The resulting analysis included 877,181 women from six
countries.

Women who aborted were 81 percent more likely to experience mental
health problems compared to all other control groups, and 55 percent
more likely to have problems compared to women who delivered an
unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

A prominent researcher in the field, David Reardon – director of the
Springfield, Illinois based Elliot Institute and the lead author of
several of the studies included in the new study – is calling for
congressional hearings to investigate why these and similar findings
have been systematically excluded from government health advisories
and government-funded health care programs.

“It is clear that a lot of health care dollars are beings spent to
treat abortion-related problems, but health care and family planning
agencies accepting federal funds are not screening for the well-known
risk factors that identify which subgroups of women are at greatest
risk of complications associated with abortions,” Reardon said.

Known Risk Factors Are Routinely Ignored

A 2008 report by the American Psychological Association Task Force on
Abortion and Mental Health identified 15 risk factors for
susceptibility to more mental health problems after an abortion.
Reardon believes federal law should require any health care provider
who accepts federal money to screen patients considering abortions for
these and similar risk factors.

“Right now, we know abortion clinics are routinely ignoring these risk
factors because they face no liability for any of the psychological
consequences of abortion,” he said.

To address these and similar concerns, the Elliot Institute has
announced a campaign calling for congressional hearings on abortion
and women’s health. The hearings should also examine the lack of any
major national studies on the subject, despite a 22-year-old
recommendation by then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop for just such a
study.

The question of abortion’s impact on women’s health last became a
major national issue in 1989 when Koop responded to request from
President Regan for a report on the subject. Koop told Regan that that
no definitive conclusions could be drawn because of the low quality of
research available at that time, and suggested that the best way to
gather definitive evidence would be for the government to fund a
10-year, national longitudinal study.

Reardon said Koop’s recommendation was blocked by abortion advocates,
including the American Psychological Association, which adopted an
official policy to advocate for abortion rights in 1967.

“The study proposed by Koop was never funded because abortion
advocates argued it was a waste of money,” Reardon said. “But in my
view, they were afraid the research would confirm what large numbers
of women were already reporting, that abortion was causing or
aggravating more emotional problems than it solved. They opposed the
research for political reasons, not scientific reasons.”

Congressional Oversight Needed

Characterizing the failure to adequately study the risks associated
with one of the most common medical procedures in the country as
“practically a crime against women,” Reardon said the new study
published by the Royal College of Psychologists should finally provide
the impetus needed to fund this long-overdue study.

But he also fears it won’t get done without congressional involvement.

“We need to do this right,” he said. “The only way to protect the
process from politicization is to acknowledge that abortion is
inextricably politicized, and to set up oversight that ensures that
researchers on both sides of the political divide participate in the
study design.”

He said that congressional oversight is also needed because of
bureaucratic resistance in government agencies to undertake such
research unless there is specific legislation and congressional
oversight directing the effort.

Another advantage of congressional hearings is that “political debate
is needed to spark the public discussion abortion’s impact on women
and the importance of support for recovery programs,” Reardon said.
He believes that the lack of any major media coverage of the new study
is indicative of a widespread bias against stories about medical
research that casts a negative light on abortion.

“Imagine the headline news coverage that would have been given to the
Royal College had published a meta-analysis showing that 10 percent of
mental illness was due to giving birth to unplanned children rather
than abortion,” Reardon said. “Every network would have covered that
story.  But when the culprit is abortion, the story get’s spiked by
the science and medicine editors.”

But if Congress holds extensive hearings, he says, then the news about
these studies may at least get covered by the reporters covering
politics.

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