By Michael J. New
Last week, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study claiming that the recent passage of pro-life laws resulted in higher rates of both anxiety and depression among women. Specifically, it claims that in states with trigger laws, both the leak of the Dobbs decision and the decision itself worsened mental health among women of childbearing age. This study was covered by mainstream media outlets including Time, Forbes, USNews.com, NY1.com, and Yahoo!
There is far less here than meets the eye. First, there are a number of methodological problems with the study. It obtains emotional-health data from a national survey that had only a 6 percent response rate. That is problematic. It is certainly possible that individuals more upset about the Dobbs decision were more likely to respond, which would skew the results.
Additionally, to gauge the impact of pro-life laws, the study calculated changes in the emotional health of people living in 13 trigger states — states where strong pro-life laws would automatically take effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned. The study then compared changes in emotional health there with the mental health of people living in the 37 other U.S. states without trigger laws.
However, laws protecting preborn children did not take effect in all 13 trigger states post-Dobbs. The study considers Utah a trigger state, but a law that would have protected preborn children was in effect for less than a week there before it was struck down by the courts. Similarly, the study considers Wyoming a trigger state, even though a strong pro-life law never took effect there post-Dobbs. Furthermore, Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia all quickly enforced policies to protect preborn children after Dobbs, but the JAMA study does not consider them “trigger” states
Taking the results at face value, the study found that the Dobbs leak and the Dobbs decision resulted in only marginal changes in the mental health of women of childbearing age.
The study relies on a twelve-point scale to measure anxiety and depression. According to that scale, both the Dobbs leak and the Dobbs decision worsened the mental health of women of childbearing age (18–45) by less than a sixth of one percentage point in trigger states — hardly a dramatic change. Interestingly, the results indicate that men aged 18–45 in trigger states experienced a larger decrease in mental health than did women of the same age cohort residing there.
There are far better ways to analyze fluctuations in mental health than by relying on a survey with a low response rate. Data on suicides, suicide attempts, and appointments with mental-health professionals would be far better ways to analyze changes in the psychological well-being of women.
That said, as is the case with most post-Dobbs abortion research, the authors and their allies in the mainstream media are primarily interested in placing pro-life laws in a negative light. As always pro-lifers would do well to stay the course.
Editor’s note. This appeared at National Review Online and is reposted with the author’s permission.