Editor's Note: This article first appeared on rraudit.org on June 18, 2013.
The project concerns women who sought abortions, but were unable to obtain them due to the gestational age of the unborn child. The research project is certainly interesting and should be of interest to all parties in the abortion debate. However, the Times coverage is disappointing. It offers no scrutiny about the preliminary findings. Furthermore, it grossly distorts and misrepresents current public health research about abortion.
Throughout the article, the author takes considerable pains to give the impression that there is a strong scholarly consensus that abortion poses no serious health risks to women. He states that “reputable research” does not support claims that abortion results in a higher risk of breast cancer, infertility, and miscarriage. However, there is an impressive body of research indicating that abortion increases the risk of premature births. Additionally, there are a number of peer reviewed studies which find that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. Even the 1997 New England Journal of Medicine study—frequently cited and touted by skeptics of the abortion breast cancer link—finds statistically significant evidence that late term abortions increase the risk of breast cancer.
The Times article also states that there is “no credible research” to support a post-abortion syndrome. However, there is a substantial body of academic research that has linked abortion to a variety of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, and suicide.
Furthermore, in 2011 Bowling Green University Professor Priscilla Coleman published a meta-analysis that included the results of over 22 peer-reviewed studies incorporating data from 877,181 women. This meta-analysis offered the largest estimate of mental-health risks associated with abortion. It appeared in the British Journal of Psychology, one of the most prestigious psychology journals in the world. It provided plenty of evidence that abortion leads to a range of mental health problems.
Much of the Times article focuses on the difficult circumstances facing an individual woman who was unable to obtain a late term abortion. However, the Times does discuss some of the findings of the UCSF study. The results indicate that compared to women who obtained abortions, turnaways fared less well both in term of their physical health and their economic condition. In particular, a higher percentage of turnaways ended up in poverty. However, a very small percentage of turnaways regret carrying their pregnancy to term. All of this is interesting. However, the Times failed to report that the research project’s current findings are preliminary. The data is not publicly available and the results have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The follow-up interviews involved with research project are scheduled to last until 2016. It appears that the author plans to conduct the research in an analytically rigorous way. However, as with any research project, there will doubtless be legitimate concerns about the study’s methodology. Furthermore, the fact that the study is being sponsored by The University of California — San Francisco, whose research invariably supports easier access to abortion, raises legitimate concerns.