More shitty research on abortion?

So new research is out, apparently saying that we shouldn’t allow abortion on the grounds of mental health because abortion doesn’t affect mental health.

(They do suggest rewording our current legislation so as to further make it clear that we have abortion on demand but not really because Good Moral Doctors really get to make all the decisions, a suggestion which may have slightly biased me towards the belief that they are ignorant wankers.)

That question mark in the title is there because, like all Good Science, the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry wants some of my sweet sweet disposable income before it will grant me access to the full text.  So I have to rely on the abstract, and the interpretation of a journalist.  Because journalists are amazingly accurate when it comes to reporting science.

Anyway, to the abstract:

Objective: There have been debates about the linkages between abortion and mental health. Few reviews have considered the extent to which abortion has therapeutic benefits that mitigate the mental health risks of abortion. The aim of this review was to conduct a re-appraisal of the evidence to examine the research hypothesis that abortion reduces rates of mental health problems in women having unwanted or unintended pregnancy.

Conclusions: There is no available evidence to suggest that abortion has therapeutic effects in reducing the mental health risks of unwanted or unintended pregnancy. There is suggestive evidence that abortion may be associated with small to moderate increases in risks of some mental health problems.

So, did it jump out at you, too?  Let’s revisit:

in women having unwanted or unintended pregnancy

unwanted or unintended pregnancy

unwanted or unintended 

I don’t know about you, but I hate the concept of surprise parties.  They are unwanted (and, because they’re a surprise, pretty much always unintended).  On the other hand, I know people who think surprise parties are the most fun ever.  They’re unintended – because they’re a surprise – but, once they occur, very much wanted.

You think me and those people might have slightly different needs and responses and experiences of surprise parties?

Maybe pregnancy is slightly similar.  Maybe a lot of people get pregnant without planning it but are actually really happy to be pregnant!  Maybe their pregnancy is subsequently full of sunshine and rainbows and morning sickness!  Maybe including happy-surprise-pregnancy-people in with unhappy-surprise-pregnancy-people might, I don’t know (because I can’t access the full fucking article) skew things the tiniest bit?

The next problem, of course, is making statements like this:

Abortion was associated with small to moderate increases in risks of anxiety … alcohol misuse … illicit drug use/misuse …and suicidal behaviour …

Without noting whether or not you controlled for the fact that there’s a tiny bit of stigma around abortion in our society, like maybe people who get abortions are regularly labelled murderers or something.  Maybe they, like, went to a clinic to get an abortion because they couldn’t feed another child on top of the ones they already have and some preachy douchefuck waved a plastic foetus at them and they decided to get a stiff drink afterwards.  I fucking would.

Not convinced?  Let’s consider that the president of ALRANZ, Dr Morgan Healey, thinks the paper shows good grounds for completely decriminalizing abortion in NZ.  Bob McCoskrie, who wants to lock up your uterus, thinks it shows abortion is the Great Satan and must be made punishable by death.

You suppose maybe the results are a little bit open to interpretation?


  1. adam white

    The University Library should have an accessible copy of Journal. I know the medical library will and if you ask real nice they will print off a copy. Pain I know, but I think your looking at this would help everyone.

      • Tamsin B-G (@Tansy91)

        I just logged in to uni and downloaded the PDF – haven’t read it all yet.
        A few things I’ve noticed: most of the studies reviewed in this paper compare people who chose to have abortions with people who chose to continue an unintended pregnancy to term. They cite a single study that seemed to find mental health benefits when comparing people who had abortions with people who were refused abortions – in this case, surprise surprise, those who were allowed abortions fared better. They say that ‘further studies making such comparisons could demonstrate positive benefits for abortion’.
        They also admit that their review included studies by antichoice authors, and justify this because it’s a controversial subject and they want to be even-handed.
        They also admit that the apparent lack of evidence for abortion having mental health benefits may be due to the studies in their review not adequately testing the hypothesis.
        They do argue that allowing abortion on mental health grounds seems unscientific – however, they suggest that a better alternative would be to liberalise abortion laws to take into account the educational, social and economic wellbeing of the pregnant person.
        So far it seems to be a mixed bag, anyway. Certainly it hasn’t been reported on well, but I’d question their conclusions given that most of the studies reviewed don’t seem to have differentiated between unintended but wanted pregnancies and truly unwanted ones.

        • QoT

          “They also admit that their review included studies by antichoice authors, and justify this because it’s a controversial subject and they want to be even-handed.”

          Boy, that sounds like some good rigorous scientific method right there. *headdesk*

          Thanks for looking at the full text!

  2. Pingback: Abortion and mental health research not as clear-cut as reported; no surprises there | Ideologically Impure