Wednesday, September 10, 2008

APA Report proves there is no such thing as a Post-Abortion Syndrome


Last month the APA (American Psychological Association) Task Force on
Mental Health and Abortion completed their two-year long study on the
negative effects of having an abortion on a woman's mental health. The report
re-asserts that there is "no credible evidence that an elective abortion
of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health
problems for adult women." In a press releaseBrenda Major, the chairwoman of the panel, said "The best scientific evidence published indicates that the relative risk of mental health problems is no
greater if they have a single elective, first-trimester abortion or
deliver that pregnancy,"

This report is the culmination of a two-year long study and included
some of the most highly respected scientists in the country; surely
this is a sign that the anti-abortion argument should no longer include the so-called “Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome”? Since the report came out last month there has been an endless stream of backlash from anti-choice groups, who are arguing that the report disregarded many personal accounts of traumatic experiences. "For the APA to simply restate its previous position shows that the group is callous towards the well-being of women," said Tony Perkins the President of the Family Research Council, a socially conservative Christian lobbyist group.

However, the APA report acknowledges specifically that every woman's experience is unique and like many other significant life decisions, complex emotions play a role in the experience. While the report is very clear that these emotions or "side effects" are no more or less evident in women who terminated the pregnancy than in women who delivered, there is no intention to disregard women who report a difficult abortion experience.

The insistence that abortion in and of itself causes emotional harm to women has become a popular tactic in current politics. Previously, anti-choice rhetoric focused solely on the potential life of the unborn. This new strategy now includes an emphasis on the mother’s health. According to a recent New York
Times article, a growing number of “abortion-recovery activists” want to dismantle this old framework and replace it with the concept that abortion is detrimental to women.

What I find most egregious about this tactic (just in case you weren’t clear: the exploitation of women’s emotions and experiences is a specific component to the multi-faceted strategy to outlaw abortion and birth control) is how anti-choice groups self-righteously and conveniently lay claim to women’s experiences when it suits their needs. What about the experiences of the rape survivors who are refused emergency contraception in the ER? What about the experiences of women who died as a result of an illegal abortion? What about the experiences of their families? What about the experiences of women who discover that something has gone terribly wrong with their much wanted pregnancy and that she is unable to have the procedure that her physician deems safest? What about the women who have to pass through a crowd of people screaming judgmental accusations when they don’t know anything about their life? What about the women who believe that having an abortion was the best decision they ever made? Oh, but those experiences contradict your agenda, so we should what? Not count them?

Women who have abortions report a wide range of experiences and I don’t think a single one should be discounted. But if anti-choice groups are sincerely concerned about women’s emotional health they would acknowledge complexity of the issue and perhaps stop contributing to social stigma surrounding abortion that affects how many women feel about their abortion experiences. The bottom line is that conservatives use liberal arguments like "disregard for women's health" when it suits their needs. It's hypocritical and I'm calling them out on it.

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