WASHINGTON — When Ann found out she was pregnant, her first instinct was abortion.
“I didn’t want to think about it; I just wanted to get it over with,” she explained.
It was 1995, and Ann had just begun a promising career. She was a non-practicing Catholic, and abortion, she said, seemed like her only option.
“I believed all the lies — that it was a choice and not a child,” she said.
But immediately after the abortion, Ann said her world had turned upside down.
“The abortion left me incredibly depressed,” she said. “I gained more than 50 pounds. I just ate and ate to kill the pain of losing my child.”
A significant percentage of women suffer mental health problems after their abortions, said Priscilla Coleman, a professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green University who has published more than 30 papers on abortion and mental health.
“The science is there to back what pro-life people have been saying for a long time: A significant proportion of women do suffer,” she said. “Honest researchers on both sides wouldn’t argue that at least 20-30% of women are negatively affected. Women have a right to know that when they’re counseled.”
However, the American Psychological Association (APA) has yet to recognize that abortion has a negative effect on women’s mental health. In 1969, the association resolved that “termination of pregnancy be considered a civil right of the pregnant woman.”
When an APA task force reviewed existing studies in 1990, it concluded that “severe negative reactions after abortions are rare, and can best be understood in the framework of coping with a normal life stress.”
In 2006, the association convened a new task force on Mental Health and Abortion to examine the scientific research addressing the mental health factors associated with abortion, including the psychological responses following abortion.
Coleman was one of two pro-life researchers the APA asked to review the task force’s preliminary report. She said that the report reflects the pro-abortion bias of the six-member committee.
However, Coleman said the report, which the APA expects to finalize by its August annual meeting, mentions several studies that found women were negatively affected by their abortions.
“They’re not ignoring our studies like they used to, but they have a clear motive to discredit them,” she said. “They’re afraid that if they accept studies that show negative effects in a certain portion of women, gradually the right to abort will be eroded. When we use [scientific] research to institute restrictions like informed consent and parental consent, the number of abortions actually goes down.”
‘Trendy to Blame’
American Psychological Association spokeswoman Kim Mills said the association wouldn’t comment on the report until it is finalized later this year.
Georgette Forney said she doesn’t expect anything new from the task force. A co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, she counsels women who regret their abortions.
“I’ve seen a lot of us deal with suicidal thoughts,” said Forney, who had an abortion as a young woman. “Some become extremely promiscuous or frigid. Many of us have nightmares. The death of someone else will often prompt us to mourn the death of our child. It affects divorce rates and women’s health in general.”
But Patricia Beninato, a pro-abortion blogger and founder of imnotsorry.net, contended that most women who have post-abortion mental health issues are simply dealing with issues they had before the abortion.
“There’s a lot of regret finding themselves in that position to begin with,” she explained. “Since abortion is so trendy to blame for psychological damage, it’s a lot easier to blame that than to say ‘I really messed up’ by getting pregnant.”
“Until someone can show me proof-positive that these women were dragged kicking and screaming to the abortion clinic, then tied down on the table and forced, I will always believe they knew exactly what they were doing,” she said.
That argument rings hollow, said David Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute, a pro-life education and research organization.
“It flies in the face of evidence that shows that in the first nine days after abortion the suicide rate will increase 90-fold,” he said. “There’s also evidence to show that the same group of women did not have higher suicide rates prior to their abortions.”
That was not the conclusion of the American Psychological Association’s 1990 task force, spokeswoman Mills said.
“The research that has been conducted by our members and other psychologists have shown that for most women, abortion in and of itself is not associated with negative mental health consequences,” she said.
That sentiment is echoed by abortion advocates like Nancy Felipe Russo, who contend that even if women’s mental health is negatively affected by abortion, no change in policy is required.
A member of the association’s task force, Russo told the Toledo Blade in 2004: “As far as I’m concerned, whether or not an abortion creates psychological difficulties is not relevant. ... It means you give proper informed consent and you deal with it.”
Unfortunately, Forney said, informed consent is not the norm and organizations like Rachel’s Vineyard and Silent No More are the ones who help women “deal with it.” Forney expected the task force will toe the politically correct line and conclude that abortion only harms a small number of women.
“That dismisses those who are hurting by saying, ‘You’re just a small percentage so you really don’t matter,’” Forney said. “That’s very upsetting to me, especially because we’re ministering to those women. We see their pain. We help pick up the pieces of their lives.
In response to the task force, Silent No More has prepared a letter asking the APA to reconsider its position. Forney said women who have been hurt by abortion may co-sign the letter at silentnomoreawareness.org.
“We’re telling the APA that they need to talk to those who have personal experience, and not just look at data,” she explained. “Data is fine, but you also need to hear from women, to hear our stories.”
More importantly, she said, women who’ve had abortions need to find peace.
“We always recommended women go through a healing program because it allows you to understand how the abortion affects our choices and behavior,” Forney said. “The better we understand how it affected us, the better we’re able to heal and help others heal.”
Patrick Novecosky is based
in Naples, Florida.