JAMA Psychiatry publishes flawed UCSF study in attempt to deny reality of women’s negative post-abortion reactions.

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., National Right to Life Director of Education and Research and Dave Andrusko,

WASHINGTON – Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) today published a report in JAMA Psychiatry (“Women’s Mental Health and Well-being 5 Years After Receiving or Being Denied an Abortion“) that aims to further the myth that women who have an abortion experience little or no psychological after effects.

Using data from their “Turnaway Study,” which NRL News Today has analyzed at great length, the UCSF authors attempt to argue that state pro-life informed consent laws may not be helpful to women but detrimental.

As we shall see that same data is being used to deny the reality of, or to minimize the significance of, women’s negative psychological reactions to abortion.

The sort of informed consent or “right to know” laws that the UCSF study purports to address vary from state to state. However, in addition to basic information on fetal development and practical alternatives and assistance available to pregnant women, these laws generally have some aspect that deals with the potential physical and psychological risks associated with abortion.

The UCSF study purports to address claims that women choosing to abort may suffer later from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

There is actual ample evidence that this takes place, evidenced by reputable studies such as that by Fergusson, et al, “Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health,” from the January 2006 issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry [www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2011/10/meta-analysis-summarizing-negative-mental-health-consequences-of-abortion-receives-support-from-prominent-pro-choice-source/#more-5543]

Fergusson and his colleagues determined, “Those having an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance use disorders. This association persisted after adjustment for confounding factors.”

The UCSF study appears to conclude something different. The authors , Biggs, Upadhyay, McCulloch, et al., assert that being “denied” an abortion may be more detrimental to a woman’s mental health than obtaining the abortion.

This appears to be a stretch, given their own data. For example they show, initially, some greater anxiety one week out among women “denied” abortions than those who had an abortion, but this appears to largely resolve after a year or so . This is an unremarkable finding.

Just one week out, these women who had been planning to abort and expecting abortion to provide a resolution to their problems, have just found out that the “solution” they sought will not be forthcoming. Suddenly scrambling to reevaluate and reset all their plans and expectations, it is hardly surprising that they might feel a certain level of frustration and anxiety.

Given the circumstances, the remarkable finding is that even at one week after the abortion, a number of women had already come to terms with the denial. About a third (35%) already have rejected the idea that abortion would have been the right decision to make. A lot of that anxiety dissipates with the arrival of the baby. (This is found in earlier studies using the same Turnaway data. See here.]

The authors here admit that even their data shows that once a woman gets farther out from the initial abortion “denial,” depression, anxiety, satisfaction levels are all relatively the same.

There are some legitimate scientific questions about whether the women in their Turnaway sample who gave birth were sufficiently similar (in age, race, education, employment, marriage, previous births, previous depression, anxiety, drug use) to the other groups in the study to provide a fair comparison. But the biggest issue is that even after five years, the final and complete psychological consequences may not be yet apparent.

We know, anecdotally, from both women who have had abortions and professionals who have counseled those women, that reactions may not present until ten years or more later–perhaps after the woman has gotten married and is either contemplating having a child or has just given birth to a child.

The relevance here, though, is not whether this happens or will eventually happen to every woman who aborts, but that it is a serious and agonizing consequence that we know, from experience does occur with some aborting women. Women considering abortion need to be aware that this is a real and painful reaction some women do indeed have.

The authors admit that “each woman’s experience is unique and that women will vary in their responses to having an abortion or being denied an abortion…”

We know that some women do eventually have serious negative psychological responses to their abortions, some within a year or two, but for most it occurs several years down the road. Women still deserve to have that information when making up their minds about abortion.

That’s the basis of the laws and our support for them.

If the UCSF authors truly believe that “[w]omen considering abortion are best served by being provided with the most accurate, scientific information available to help them make their pregnancy decisions,” full and complete disclosure would seem to require telling women of these very real and serious reactions too.