In case there weren’t already enough evidence against it, the New England Journal of Medicine just published yet another study demolishing the myth of post-abortion syndrome: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE70P8ZK20110126. For the uninitiated, post-abortion syndrome as defined by Ramah International is “a form of post-traumatic stress disorder” that manifests symptoms that include guilt, anxiety, depression and even “brief reactive psychosis.” In short: if you have an abortion, you will lose your mind. It’s true that the symptoms listed by Ramah International are certainly associated with post-traumatic disorder. I don’t debate this. I debate the premise that something called post-abortion syndrome exists, and can be legitimately connected to PTSD.
So do women sometimes experience regret regarding their abortions? Yes. People can regret any decision, particularly serious ones, and no reproductive justice activist I know would describe abortion as anything other than serious. But there is a significant gap between acknowledging the possibility of regret post-abortion and creating a psychological diagnosis. In 2008, the American Psychological Association (APA) released an exhaustive report on the subject of post-abortion syndrome. The conclusion: there’s no such thing. As quoted in Salon, the APA found that “The most methodologically sound research indicates that among women who have a single, legal, first-trimester abortion of an unplanned pregnancy for nontherapeutic reasons, the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy.” Entire report available here: http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/abortion/index.aspx.
The APA’s research has been backed up by the nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/j.socscimed.2010.10.006.pdf) and numerous other studies that have been featured in publications like Bioethics, The Harvard Review of Psychiatry, American Psychology and The British Journal of Psychiatry. Note that no one is saying you cannot ever be depressed about getting abortion, or that it is illegitimate to feel this way, but that a clinical syndrome has not been observed. But if post-abortion syndrome is a myth, its proponents charged with “creating an affliction” in Bioethics, why do organizations like Ramah International and Feminists for Life continue to circulate it?
Simply this. The anti-choice movement cannot claim to be pro-woman if post-abortion syndrome does not exist. It is consistently repeated by anti-choice organizations because it allows them to appear sympathetic to the needs of women. If women are endangered by abortion, then it’s easy to be a “feminist for life.” Evangelicals are particularly prone to this myth. Note the name of Ramah International. It’s based on a passage in Jeremiah, specifically Jeremiah 31:15: “A voice is heard in Ramah – mourning and great weeping. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because her children are no more.“
The evangelical anti-choice philosophy dictates that post-abortion syndrome must exist because abortion is murder. If it does not, millions of women are either emotionless sociopaths, or abortion is not murder. And that is why despite all evidence, anti-choice organizations will continue to cling to the post-abortion myth. They will recycle its pseudoscience (or pseudopsychology, in this case) and ignore the possibility that the reason some women might feel shame about their abortions is because of signs calling them murderers.
None of this is particularly new information, at least for those who follow the debate on reproductive rights in America. The recent controversy over so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” run by anti-choice groups have catapulted their reliance on pseudoscience into the public consciousness. It’s also vital information to remember when considering the religious right. Evangelical organizations that promote post-abortion syndrome don’t consider women to fully functional, intellectual human beings. There is no compromise with such organizations. Post-abortion syndrome also relates to a debate often seen in feminist circles: can one be pro-life and feminist? My answer is yes–sort of. I think you can be personally against abortion and a feminist. By this I mean that I believe it’s possible for an individual to decide that she is not comfortable with terminating her own pregnancy and be truly feminist. I do not believe that you can support political action against reproductive choice and be a feminist. And you most certainly cannot call yourself a feminist if you support organizations that dupe women.
For an organization that approaches the complicated post-abortion emotions many women do feel from a nonpartisan, nonjudgmental perspective, click here: http://www.4exhale.org/.