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ALRANZ Questions Study on Mental Health, Abortion

Media Release
4 November 2009
Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ

ALRANZ Questions Study on Mental Health and Abortion

A new study on abortion and mental health contains good news for supporters of safe and accessible abortion, but some of its conclusions overreach the data, the president of the Abortion Law Reform Association, Dame Margaret Sparrow, said today.

“The authors of the new study (led by David Fergusson), as well as the news media, have tended to pluck out and highlight questionable results that seem aimed at undermining abortion access, while downplaying or ignoring clear evidence that women want and benefit from that access,” she said.

One important piece of good news is the report’s refutation of anti-abortion claims that large numbers of women regret their abortions. The Fergusson study finds that “nearly 90% stated that the decision to have an abortion was the correct one, and only 2% reported that they believed the decision to be incorrect”.

On the negative side, Dame Margaret said, we have major concerns at what the report says about the crucial question of the impact of continuing with an unwanted pregnancy.

“Here, the report fudges an important distinction: In claiming that continuing an unwanted pregnancy is linked to fewer mental health problems, the authors appear to include only women who chose to continue their pregnancies, not women who were forced to do so because they could not obtain an abortion,” she said.

Considering that missing data, Dame Margaret said, it was hard to see how the authors could question the legality of abortions carried out on the ground of mental health.

Finally, it is important to note that the report does not link abortion itself with mental health problems, but “distress about the abortion”, recollected retrospectively. Women who did not have “distress” about their abortions had no significant increase in mental health problems, she said.

This raises questions about this “distress”. What caused it? What other stressful events were the women exposed to? The researchers themselves, for example, say they don’t know if it’s related to being a member of a community that views abortion negatively and are careful to state that their conclusions are subject to a number of potential limitations.



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