Priscilla K. Coleman, Ph.D.
                                       Bowling Green State University
                                                   August 13, 2008

The charge of the APA Task Force on Abortion and Mental Health was to collect, examine,
and summarize peer-reviewed research published over the last 17 years pertaining to
outcomes associated with abortion.

Evidence described below indicates an extensive, politically motivated bias in the selection
of studies, analysis of the literature, and in the conclusions derived by the Task Force. As
opposed to bringing light to a complex literature, the misleading report carries enormous
potential to hinder scientific understanding of the meaning of abortion in women's lives.
The report should be recalled and at a minimum, the conclusion changed. There is
sufficient data in the world's published literature to conclude that abortion increases risk
of anxiety, depression, substance use, and suicide. At this juncture, the APA can not be
trusted to provide accurate assimilation of information.

Problematic Features of the Report Substantiated in this Critique:

  • The conclusion DOES NOT follow from the literature reviewed
  • When comparing reviews of the literature there is selective reporting
  • Avoidance of quantification
  • Biased selection of Task Force members and possibly reviewers
  • Power attributed to cultural stigmatization in women's abortion-related stress is unsupported
  • Selection criteria resulted in dozens of studies indicating negative effects being ignored
  • Methodologically based selection criteria as opposed to geographic locale should have
  • been employed and consistently applied
  • Shifting standards of evaluation of studies presented based on the conclusion's fit with a
    pro-choice agenda

1) The conclusion (in quotes below) DOES NOT follow from the literature reviewed

"The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an
unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have
a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy."

They also note "Rarely did research designs include a comparison group that was
otherwise equivalent to women who had an elective abortion, impairing the ability to draw
conclusions about relative risks."

Here are a few comments from a participant, for starters:

Friends --

The APA Council took up the question of whether or not to receive the Report of the Task
Force on Mental Health and Abortion at about 10:45 today (Wednesday, August 13, 2008).
There were six people who spoke on the Report. Four were for it and talked about how
very much it was the best of psychologists, and we needn't worry that it included
researchers reviewing their own work because the specific individuals did not review their
own specific work for the Task Force. One speaker said that while he thought it should be
accepted, we really had ought to watch out for the appearance problem that comes from
having researchers reviewing their own work. Mine was the lone voice of dissent; I
approached the mike and got permission to speak as a non-council member -- but only
briefly, so what I could say was minimal. And apparently irrelevant.

The vote was a show of hands that included almost everyone. I thought I saw a few hands
for "no" votes, but a journalist I spoke to afterward thought those were all abstentions; he
counted 6.

One of the speakers did make reference to the letters all Council had received, the
response to which was basically a smirk on the part of the group. At this point, of course,
we're beyond the issue of abortion itself into the issue of the competence of APA itself,
which is an additional problem in being convincing.

The reporter who flagged me down afterward said he was from the National Psychologist,
a publication for practitioners. He said that perhaps I could have been more convincing if I
had been given more time. Whether that's true or not, it says something about what he
was thinking. I spoke with him for about 15-20 minutes.

The Report is now received, and the vote was not anywhere near close enough to make me
feel bad that I didn't do more lobbying. The press release concerning it has already gone
out. The report is now up on the web, and the new position will presumably go up there
soon as well. I have no information about plans for journal publication.

Note: This document is not copyrighted and may be distributed or quoted directly without the
author's permission.
Critique of the APA Task Force on Abortion and Mental Health