Does abortion hurt women? The American Psychological Association's much-heralded survey of research over the past 17 years offers a carefully nuanced conclusion that doesn't really answer the question -- but it still manages to support the APA's 39-year history of promoting abortion as a civil right.

"The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy, the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion or deliver that pregnancy," said Brenda Major, chair of the APA's Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, in a statement. "The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain."

Excluded from the 91-page report released Aug. 13 were any conclusions relating to abortions in other circumstances, noted David Reardon, pro-life researcher and director of the Elliot Institute, which studies the aftereffects of abortion. Those other circumstances included:

Women who have multiple abortions, (which accounts for about half of all abortions).

Women who abort a wanted pregnancy because of coercion or pressure to abort from third parties or because of prenatal testing that finds abnormalities.

Minors who have abortions.

Women with pre-existing mental health problems in which case abortion may not "in and of itself" be the sole cause of mental health problems but may instead trigger or aggravate pre-existing problems.

Selective reading

"The Report of the APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion" was billed by the 148,000-member national organization as a comprehensive review of 17 years of scientific studies on the effect of abortion on women's mental health, but critics said it excluded from its conclusions any research findings that suggested abortion could inflict mental harm.

"Once again the reality of the aftermath of abortion is so frightening to the mainline mindset that they cannot allow anything to challenge that," said Vicki Thorn, founder and executive director of The National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing and Project Rachel in Milwaukee.

Key to understanding the APA report is the national organization's 1969 resolution, and a similar one in 1989, labeling the right to abortion as a civil right, said Elizabeth Ring Cassidy, psychologist and co-author of "Women's Health After Abortion: The Medical and Psychological Evidence" (The de Veber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research, Toronto, Canada 2003), an examination of the methodology of abortion research in more than 500 studies over two decades.

"This paper does a really good job of continuing to support their original position of 1969 and 1989, and to find what they see as methodological flaws in any research by people who are not pro-choice," Cassidy said.

She noted the task force was chaired by Brenda Major, an influential pro-choice researcher in the field of abortion, and the only statistics admitted as scientifically acceptable were those from researchers affiliated with Planned Parenthood Federation's research arm, the Guttmacher Institute, or from Major and another researcher, Nancy E. Adler, professor of medical psychology at University of California, San Francisco. Both women are known for their pro-abortion connections, Cassidy said.

Methodological flaws

Less than 250 women were studied in the 19 studies the task force deemed acceptable, Cassidy told OSV.

The group threw out all analysis of large-scale data involving thousands of women. Most glaring was the task force's decision not to consider research conducted by a pro-choice researcher from New Zealand, David Fergusson, whose research was published in 2006, Cassidy said. Fergusson found in a study of 630 women from birth to age 25 that women in the abortion group had significantly higher rates of concurrent depression, suicidal thoughts, illicit drug dependence and total number of mental health problems than the delivery group. In discarding the research, the APA task force said that New Zealand's abortion laws were stricter.

Also deemed unacceptable by the APA task force were studies using data from MediCal, California's public health insurance program, that compared more than 40,000 California women who had abortions to a similar number who did not. Also found unacceptable was research based on health and death records of 600,000 women in Finland from 1987 to 1994 that found rates of psychiatric admission were 72 percent higher among women who aborted compared to those who gave birth.

"The APA has violated its own mission to advance psychology as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare," said Deirdre McQuade, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.

The report contains severe methodological flaws, ignores research conducted on women who had abortions outside of the United States unless it supports a pro-choice position, and discounts valid research conducted within the United States, McQuade added.

"This report suppresses psychological knowledge," McQuade said.

"The most important thing is that, regardless of what the APA says, what women . . . truly need to hear is this -- if you are hurting because you've had an abortion, you need to know you are not alone and women from Silent No More are here to walk with you, to listen to you," said Georgette Forney, co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. Forney had an abortion in high school and didn't begin to grieve until 19 years later when as a married mother she opened her high school yearbook. "It doesn't matter what the APA says. What matters is -- if you are hurting, help is available."

Past APA positions

Here is the American Pyschological Assocation's <[lb]>1989 policy statement regarding <[lb]>abortion, which builds upon the organization's 1969 position:

WHEREAS in 1969, the APA identified freedom of reproductive choice as a mental health and child welfare issue;

WHEREAS the APA Council of Representatives decries the uninformed movement in many state legislatures to recriminalize abortion to limit access to the full range of reproductive options, especially to poor women who use publicly funded health services;

WHEREAS erroneous assertions about widespread severe negative psychological effects of abortion are being used to argue for laws that restrict reproductive freedom;

WHEREAS a review of the best scientific evidence by an APA panel of experts finds these assertions to be without fact;

WHEREAS uninformed public statements and a lack of understanding about psychological responses after unwanted pregnancy and abortion can themselves create emotional distress;

WHEREAS the weight of evidence is that legal abortion as a resolution to an unwanted pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester, does not create psychological hazards for most women undergoing the procedures; and

WHEREAS the preponderance of scientific data supports the conclusion that freedom of choice and a woman's control over her critical life decisions promotes psychological health;

THEREFORE BE IT MOVED that the Council of Representatives of the APA directs the Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer to undertake an immediate initiative to disseminate scientific information on reproductive freedom to policymakers, to the public, and to state psychological associations and APA divisions.

Find out more

Hope After Abortion (www.hopeafterabortion.com) provides a resource list of books and studies that explain the detrimental effects of abortion.

The Elliot Institute (www.afterabortion.com) gives links to studies on abortion's aftereffects.

Valerie Schmalz writes from California.