Friday, January 06, 2006

New Study on Psychological Effects of Abortion

A team in New Zealand led by David Fergusson has published what is billed as the largest study yet on the psychological effects of abortion. They found that women 15-25 who have abortions are more likely to have psychological problems later on. A popular write up in the Sydney Morning Harold is here. The New Zealand Herald has more information. This is the abstract. (Full content available to subscribers only, which is not me.)

Fergusson describes himself as "an atheist, a rationalist and pro-choice." He was expecting his study to show that having an abortion relieved psychological problems, which is the belief of most pro-choice activists. Intellectual honesty and a concern for the well-being of patients led him to publish the findings that disconfirmed his hypothesis. The NZ Harold quotes him as saying, "To provide a parallel to this situation, if we were to find evidence of an adverse reaction to medication, we would be obliged ethically to publish that fact." Nevertheless, he had a lot of trouble getting his results published, and some people were explicit about not wanting to touch his research because of the political consequences.

Sometimes conservative activists claim to be liberals who are "just following the evidence." Take, for instance, Bjorn Lomborg's claim that he is a true environmentalist simply practicing good skepticism. In this case, though, I trust Fergusson. No one would claim to be an atheist in public for political purposes: atheists are even more hated than Muslims. On the other hand, a commenter on reports that Fergusson has made other dubious claims with a right bias. Like Glenn at, I will believe the study when it is reviewed by the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

Also note what this study does not show: it does not show the existence of "post-abortion syndrome," a fictitious cousin of post traumatic stress syndrome invented by pro-life activists. "Post-abortion syndrome" still belongs in the same category of nonsense with intelligent design, the "erototoxins" released by pornography, ritual satanic abuse, and witchcraft.

I'm going to order the study from interlibary loan. There's a section on post- abortion syndrome in my teaching abortion ethics paper, which was supposed to be finished six months ago. A lot of the material in that paper has been getting popular attention recently. The NYT a while back had an article on the underappreciated fact that the Bible never mentions abortion at all. Sadly, it has now disappeared behind the pay wall. Hopefully I'll get my act together enough to blog more on these issues before the semester starts.


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