Monday 18 August 2008

Mental health risk of abortion wrongly denied

A member of the American Psychological Association has criticised that organisation's survey of the effects of abortion on women's mental health, saying it is politically motivated and bad science. The project concluded that early abortion did not increase the likelihood of significant mental problems.

Dr Rachel M MacNair, research director for Consistent Life, Missouri, and an official reviewer of the report, points out that the task force's conclusion was based on a single British study. Furthermore, that research actually found a higher incidence of drug overdose among women who had had abortions.

Dr MacNair writes: "'[S]cience' means what the [association] says it means, rather than what those of us trained in a university might have been taught. … [C]iting only one study in support of a politically-desired conclusion cannot be explained in any other way than a politically-motivated exercise."

Dr MacNair and Consistent Life wrote to leading association members expressing concern, as did others. She was also allowed briefly to address a meeting of the association's council earlier this month, voicing her concerns about the flimsy basis for the report's conclusion. She received no response then or since.

She makes the point that, if the association can base its view on a single study, it would only take another solitary piece of research to reverse it. She says, however: "[T]hat would be [making] the assumption that [the association] was actually interested in keeping up with real science, an assumption for which at this point I have no evidence."

During the review process, at least some of Dr MacNair's input on some matters was omitted. Professor David Fergusson of Otago University, New Zealand, who was also a reviewer of the report, agreed with Dr MacNair about the poor quality of science. He reportedly calls himself an "atheist pro-choicer". Dr Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University, Ohio, also broadly concurred about the poor science.

Dr MacNair says there was no general call for nominations to the task force. Instead, the division responsible for women's psychology simply had their choices for membership approved by the council. By the time Dr MacNair was aware of who was in the group, it was too late for nominations.

Consistent Life wrote to the council pointing out that three members of the task force were outspoken defenders of abortion while the other three had made no statements of positions. There was no reply received from any members of the council.

What Dr MacNair described as a "grotesque caricature of pro-lifers" was removed at draft stage.