Abortion advocates often base their arguments for wider access to abortion on their belief that women have an explicit civil right to be free from any number of complications – physical, emotional, financial, etc – of an unwanted pregnancy.  They tend to deny, or attempt to minimize, the many complications, physical and psychological, which frequently follow induced abortion.

The Human Life Research Institute recently published a pamphlet, Abortion’s Aftermath, which is a handy, although slim, review of the published research documenting the after-affects of abortion.  The first part, by Mary Parthun, M.S.W., discusses the studies done on the psychological effects of abortion.  The second part, co-authored by Heather Morris, M.D. and Lorraine Williams, M.S.W., briefly discusses the physical complications following abortion.

Mrs. Parthun shows research that clearly documents that those at greatest risk of suffering psychological after-effects of abortion are precisely those women who are often considered to be in most need of an abortion.  Mrs. Parthun defines the high-risk individuals as follows:

  • Those who undergo abortion for genetic or physical reasons;
  • Those with a serious psychiatric problem’
  • Teenagers, particularly where coercion and pressure by others are brought to bear on the decision to abort;
  • Women who feel strong ambivalence about the abortion, particularly where coercion and external pressures are factors;
  • Girls and women who lack personal and social support for the abortion and afterwards.

Of particular interest is Mrs. Parthun’s analysis of the widely publicized 1984 report.  The Abortion Choice: Psychological Determinants and Consequences. This report, funded by the Family Planning Division of Health and Welfare Canada, concluded that accounts of psychological damage ere “myths” stemming from out-of-date psychiatric literature; its authors urged that their conclusions be widely publicized “so that pregnant women, who do not wish to have a child, can make a more informed choice about their future.”

However, the report’s conclusion and its analysis of the data collected contradict one another, as Mrs. Parthun demonstrates.  She commissioned two independent psychologists to review the research methodology used.  Both were highly critical, noting “poor planning and poor data-gathering procedures,” and “grossly inappropriate,” conclusions.

Vested interests

Abortion’s Aftermath raises some interesting questions about how research into the effects of abortion is conducted.  Mrs. Parthun suggests this is partly caused by “human inertia and inadequate communication or by lack of receptiveness to new findings.”  She adds, “To this can be added financial and professional vested interests and cultural collusion to institutionalize a given practice.”  She also suggests that one reason why significant after-effects are minimized “ may bear out the stand of feminist critics of women’s health care, who observe that women’s psychological and physiological complaints are not given credence or importance.”  Unfortunately (and perhaps due to considerations of space available and cost of printing longer pamphlets), she does not go on to discuss at greater length these important questions.

Part two of the pamphlet, dealing with physical complications of abortion, is a brief five pages covering the studies which document abortion’s physical after-effects.  The complications – ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous miscarriage, risk of difficult deliveries and neo-natal death in future children, etc – are briefly mentioned, although fully foot-noted.  As many pro-lifers interested in the subject would not have easy access to the medical journals cited, it is to be hoped that the Human Life Institute will consider an extended pamphlet discussing this important topic in the future.

Abortion’s Aftermath is available from the Human Life Research Institute, 240 Church Street, Toronto, Ontario M5B 1Z2, for $4.95, which includes shipping.