Journal Disavows Published Study Linking Abortion To Mental Illnesses
The Journal of Psychiatric Research has distanced itself from a study it published back in 2009 on the link between abortion and incidence of mental illness. They noted numerous problems with the study and its use of a comorbidity data set. The Journal rebuked the study, but hasn’t issued a formal retraction (yet).
In an unusual commentary, one of the Journal of Psychiatric Research’s editors-in-chief and a co-author warned that the 2009 paper, which has been widely cited by legislators and advocates to argue that abortion raises a woman’s risk of mental illness and to push for laws requiring providers to tell women that, in fact “does not support assertions that abortions led to psychopathology.”
Led by Priscilla Coleman, a professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, the study used data from the Harvard-based National Comorbidity Survey, which assesses the prevalence of mental illness in the United States. She and her co-authors concluded that there is a link between past abortions and mental illness.
In 2010 Julia Steinberg of the University of California, San Francisco, and Lawrence Finer of the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute published their own analysis of the same data from the comorbidity survey. They identified a number of errors in the Coleman paper, including statistical ones.
The Guttmacher Institute is a non-profit research and education group that advocates for reproductive rights, including access to abortion.
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 but opponents have sought, particularly at the state level, to impose restrictions on the procedure.
Steinberg said that the biggest problem in the original Coleman study was that “many of the incidents of mental illness she included came before the abortion.” That cast doubt on whether abortion triggered mental illness. Instead, women with mental illness might have been more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy and terminate it.
Let that last part sink in. The study that claimed a link between having an abortion and causing mental illness didn’t separate out those incidences where the woman had episodes of mental illness prior to the abortion.
That all but renders the study useless because the causality that was claimed can’t be shown unless you separate out the pre- and post- abortion incidences of mental illness. Without that critical step, you can’t make the claim that abortion causes mental illness.
Mind you that this study has been among those cited in trying to further restrict access to abortion. Several states require counseling prior to obtaining abortion, including the potential mental health outcomes. More and more states are jumping on the counseling 24-48 to longer period between counseling and procedure.