Is "Post-Abortion Syndrome" Just a Myth?

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(CBS) Can having an abortion cause a woman to suffer mental problems? Probably not, according to the latest research.

To some, this might seem like a no-brainer, but the findings are in direct contradiction to a well-publicized 2009 study which found women who reported having had an abortion had higher rates of substance abuse and mood disorders than women who had not.

Last year's study, led by Dr. Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University, analyzed data collected by the National Comorbidity Survey. Coleman found that large numbers of women who had abortions ended up suffering from what the media called "post-abortion syndrome."

Yet when the same data was analyzed by Dr. Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute and Julia Steinberg of the University of California in San Francisco, the researchers found that Coleman's results could not be replicated.

The number of women who had abortions and subsequently suffered from mental problems - as reported by Coleman - were sometimes more than five times as large as the numbers Finer and Steinburg came up with, the Washington Post reported.

"We were unable to reproduce the most basic tabulations of Coleman and colleagues," Julia Steinberg, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF, said in a written statement.

Coleman stands behind her work, and told the Washington Post that Finer and Steinburg didn't look at the mental health of the subjects over as long a period of time as she did. "I am not the only credentialed scientists whose research is indicating that abortion is not without serious mental health risks for many women," she contends.

One can imagine the political implications of the dueling analyses, and Finer makes his position clear.

"Antiabortion activists have relied on questionable science in their efforts to push inclusion of the concept of 'post-abortion syndrome' in both clinical practice and law," he says. "Our inability to replicate the findings of the Coleman study makes it clear that research claiming to find relationships between abortion and poor mental health indicators should be subjected to close scrutiny."


  • Aina Hunter

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