That word “abortion” rears its head again in New Zealand media and, once again, this right is under verbal attack.
First cab off the rank was New Zealand Herald columnist, Garth George, dived straight in accusing abortion as being “the root of all abuse”. A bold claim, considering abuse predates abortion by some margin. As a true christian conservative, he blames liberal values and the decay of religion for this supposed increase in abuse and family violence. He makes these claims hot on the heels of the nasty and insidious killing of 3-year-old girl Nia Glassie, following months of abuse from family members.
What is the basis for George’s claim that abortion is somehow linked to this sort of abusive behaviour? Evidence? Far from it. George invented this link and in regurgitating a religious ideological position about abortion, he advocates for a more Godly society, like that of 50-100 years ago. That would solve our family violence problems he reasons. This thinking is both wrong historically and sociologically. Religious families are not immune to violence. In fact, if we look back at the days George is suggesting we return to, child abuse was justified as “discipline” and instilling the “fear of God”. This insidious and shortsighted thinking has rightfully been exposed and a new more reasonable, liberal society has emerged.
What The Studies Say
Shortly after George’s tirade a couple of news stories about studies looking at a possible link between abortion and mental health. On December 2, the New Zealand Herald printed this article entitled “Study Links Abortion, Mental Health Problems”. This is a somewhat misleading title given what Otago University researchers say about their study in the article. The study, originally published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, found that of the 500 women who participated were more than a thrid likely to develop disorders such as anxiety and depression. The researchers say this is further verification of studies done overseas. This is factually incorrect. As a pro-abortion advocate pointed out, the well performed studies are unanimous in establishing a link between abortion and mental health. It is entirley plausible, that factors not controlled for in the Otago University study, such as other related issues that lead unplanned pregnancies, effected the results. The researchers themselves claim the study cannot be used to validate the claims of either side of the abortion debate. They did say, however, that the findings would have implications for the legal status of abortion in New Zealand and the UK. The question is why? How can one small study be so influential, especially when tossed in the barrel alongside numerous other well-performed studies that show no link between abortion and mental health?
Not two days later, Reuters followed up with this story that virtually demolishes any such notion of a link between abortion and mental health. In fact, a team from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA, stated that no high-quality study can establish such a link and that notions of a “post-abortion syndrome” were purely politically motivated. The researchers loked at 21 studies involving 150,000 women and found no significant differences in mental health between women who had abortions and others.
“The best research does not support the existence of a ‘post-abortion syndrome’ similar to post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Dr. Robert Blum, who led the study published in the journal Contraception.
Vignetta Charles, a researcher and doctoral student at Johns Hopkins who worked on the study said, “based on the best available evidence, emotional harm should not be a factor in abortion policy. If the goal is to help women, program and policy decisions should not distort science to advance political agendas”.
Abortion is one issue that exmplifies the fundamental split between religious conservative christians, moderate christians and others. In liberal countries such as New Zealand, where religious opposition is significantly quieter, the issue of a woman’s right to abortion is not on the table anymore.
What can be gained from all this twoing and froing over abortion? Primarily, we can take the Otago University study and treat it as one study. One study can only ontribute a drop in the bucket of the scientific literature. When viewed amongst the vast amount of studies, the well performed larger and statistically significant studies show no causal relationship between abortion and the mental health of the woman who have them. Amongst all the ideological opposition to abortion is the fact that subversion of science and the cherry picking of studies to confirm one’s prior ideology is an all too common pattern. As soon as the story hit the wires religious right activists were pouring out the ad hominem attacks on Dr Blum. Their claims were largely that he profits from abortion and that he is funded by Planned Parenthood and therefore can’t be taken seriously (in other words “we’re right”). Smear the researcher to cast doubt on the research is a cynical ploy, but necessary when the research doesn’t support the claim pro-lifers want to make.