The right’s love affair with post-abortion syndrome

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/.

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17 thoughts on “The right’s love affair with post-abortion syndrome

  1. when does human life begin?

    if at conception, all abortion is murder.
    if after birth, no abortion is murder.
    if some time in between, when?

      • nobody knows? that would have to include you too. i was looking for a substantive answer…..that’s it? i could just as easily say “your subjective morality cannot be imposed on innocent human bodies”…..especially when the consequence is death. please try again.

  2. Where is the study on the psychology of women who delivers and raises a child into this mad world? There would need be both to get a full picture of a mother’s mind. This study as you say would be designed for propaganda.

    If pro-life activists really cared, they would be focusing on the emotional, social and economic needs of the living. They rarely see the connection.

    If nature/god/the universe saw fit to give women the power to bear life within a world they see fit, then I say so can I. She decides if her world is a place worth bringing a child into.

    Religions and governments have always tried to marginalize (or take-over) a woman’s sexual and reproductive decision-making power without making the world a better place for her children. That can leave mothers on the recieving end of very bad options. I think some may live with more stress having to worry about how to feed their children than the emotional stress of an abortion. But where might we find that study from the pro-life side?

    For me, the abortion debate can never stand on it’s own. Women bring children into a world that is socially and economicially not of their design. It forces a certain degree of dependency, then punishes women the most for that dependency.

    The push back on legalize abortion reeks of morality and sexual control over women.

    In a perfect world, rape would not exist, women would not seek abortions, and we would all live within an economic structure that directs resources to mothers instead of away from them.

    We do not live in a perfect world. The plight of children who are here wear greatly on my conscience. We need to empower mother’s everywhere. I dream big dreams to change this reality via my blog.

  3. No, Ricky, you believe the consequence is death. That doesn’t mean it actually is. How is it logical to value a zygote over a woman? The question over the beginnings of life is a philosophical one. You may not like it, but there is no definitive answer. You are free to believe what you like. But you simply cannot prove, in any way, that abortion is comparable to murder.

    • I’m actually pro choice, just surprised how much of a moron you are for not representing us well. You don’t know when life begins? I guess your mother can still abort you because we don’t know if your life has begun yet.

      • If you don’t want to be treated like an anti-choice troll, don’t post as one. I responded the way I did in order to avoid being drawn into a particular debate that I’ve heard rehashed hundreds of times.

      • And still yet, you can’t explain if you are a human life because we don’t know if your life has even began yet. “Nobody knows” if your life has began yet, so how do we know you are actually person, thus deserving of any rights?

    • I do think Ricky has a point Sarah. As he says

      “if at conception, all abortion is murder.
      if after birth, no abortion is murder.
      if some time in between, when?”

      There seems to be a possiblity that abortion may be murder. I think pro-choice advocates need to take this seriously and state an argument for why it is not. Certainly just stating that nobody knows is not a good answer, this seems to favor the pro-life side anyway since if we don’t know we should play it safe and consider it murder even if we aren’t sure. This also doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not a zygote is more or less important than its mother but whether or not abortion can be classified as a murder and why. There may not be a definitive answer (in philosophy is there ever one?) but we can still form conclusions based on our available evidence by way of a thought out argument. I know you can do better then that. 🙂

  4. Thanks for this post. Besides the point you make, even if abortion cjaused mental health problems in some women, that would not mean it is up to the state to decide that abortion should be illegal. It is up to a woman to decide whether to put herself at risk of mental health problems, eithe rby aborting or by delivering (which accroding to the most recent NEJM study did cause a risk of mental health problems).

    • Agreed. The reason I didn’t give him a definitive answer is because I don’t see the point in wasting my time on a troll. But since others have asked, I believe “life” as we understand it begins at birth.

      It would have been pretty cool if you were Batman though.

      • That wasn’t so hard, was it? Except
        now you have changed your answer from “I don’t know” to “nobody knows” to “at birth.” Think a little before you speak. Smart people come to conclusions with brevity, idiots ramble to cover the fact that even they don’t fully comprehend what they’re saying.

  5. Ricky, this is your first and last warning. I tolerate criticism but not insults. I stand by my original response that it’s a philosophical question and therefore it’s impossible to come to an objective conclusion. I believe that it begins at birth, based on what I believe to be sound reasoning, but it’s a belief and nothing more.

    Tone down your language or you’re banned.

  6. Ricky,

    Smart people also recognize that god gave women the ability to bear children. And for that child to grow within her body without your knowledge. It is a responsibility and gift unto her as ordained by god.

    Read: Hers, her conscience

    If god thought it proper for her to be the guardian of this process, then it’s good enough for me.

    I believe the book Freakonomics has actually hypothesized that decreasing crime in our country correlates with abortion access.

    Shouldn’t you be off adopting unwanted children somewhere? Or paying for the social ills that come along with unwanted children?

  7. All abortion is murder. But let’s hide behind the “we don’t know when life begins” idea. It’s better to err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to a possible murder. There is always the option of adoption and keeping the child. There never is “have to get an abortion” scenario. Murdering the child inside you never solves anything.

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