A newly released report by the American Psychological Association is drawing fire from family groups and pro-life advocates who say abortion, even one time, can cause considerable psychological harm to a woman.
"The American Psychological Association's so-called study is nothing more than a conclusion supported by opinions screened to match that predetermined outcome," said Georgette Forney, co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, in a statement Thursday.
Forney's criticism was directed at a draft report by the APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion which concluded that women who have a single elective first-trimester abortion do not have a higher risk of mental health problems than those who have their babies.
"There is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women," the report, released Tuesday, stated. Mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain, the panel found.
The report was accepted by the APA Council of Representatives at APA's Annual Convention in Boston on Wednesday.
Many weren't surprised by the report.
"This finding was expected given the composition of the APA task force (pro-choice in a pro-choice organization) but provides testimony to the bias of APA in not even meeting with groups who represent women who believe abortion did lead to significant mental health problems," said Dr. Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. "Several groups sought to meet with APA but were rebuffed."
Over 600 women who had an abortion asked to meet with the APA to discuss their experiences of abortion and depression. They were, however, dismissed.
"The APA brushed them off, just like it dismissed any scientific study that didn't agree with its agenda," said Forney, whose organization raises awareness about the harmful effects of abortion and has had 2,326 women and men share their testimonies around the world.
Forney and other pro-life groups believe the task force's review process of studies published since 1989 was biased and that the APA panel disregarded scientific research that shows the psychological harm an abortion can cause.
There were some studies that indicated experiences of sadness, depression and anxiety following an abortion for some women, the task force reported, but the panel concluded that it found "no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors," such as poverty or a history of emotional problems.
Many believe otherwise.
"A number of studies have shown abortion in women to be associated with increased risks of major depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal behaviors," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, commented Thursday. "The report ... ignores a substantial and growing body of evidence consisting of testimonies based on women's real-life experiences, as cited by the Supreme Court in the Gonzales v. Carhart decision last year which upheld the federal ban on partial-birth abortion."
Brenda Major, chair of the APA task force, said at the release of the report that the conclusions were drawn from "the best scientific evidence published." But at the same time, she and the panel acknowledged that many of the studies published during the period reviewed suffered "serious methodological problems" and called for better-designed research in the future.
With conclusions drawn from such flawed studies and limited evidence, New Zealand researcher David Fergusson believes what the panel “has, in effect, said is that until there is compelling evidence to the contrary, people should act as though abortion has no harmful effects."
"In this respect, the response of the APA committee to this situation appears to follow the type of logic used by the Tobacco industry to defend cigarettes: since, in our opinion, there is no conclusive evidence of harm then the product may be treated as safe," Fergusson told Throckmorton. "A better logic is that used by the critics of the industry: since there is suggestive evidence of harmful effects it behooves us to err on the side of caution and commission more and better research before drawing strong conclusions. History showed which side had the better arguments."
The APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion was formed in 2006 and charged with collecting, examining and summarizing the scientific research addressing mental health factors associated with abortion, including the psychological responses following abortion. According to the report, the panel evaluated all of the empirical studies published in English in peer-reviewed journals since 1989 that compared the mental health of women who had an induced abortion to comparison groups of women, or that examined factors that predict mental health among women who have had an elective abortion in the United States.