Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, in a statement released on March 14 urged that women should not be allowed to have abortions until they are counseled on the procedure’s risks to their mental health. The College recommended adding details about the risks of depression to abortion leaflets. “Consent cannot be informed,” it claimed, “without the provision of adequate and appropriate information.”
More than 90 per cent of the 200,000 abortions committed in Britain every year are based on the assumption that the continuation of an unwanted pregnancy would cause mental strain. However, the new research, including studies other than the one reported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, contradicts this assumption.
Nadine Dorries, a Conservative MP, welcomed the college’s stance. “For doctors to process a woman’s request for an abortion,” she stated, “without providing the support, information and help women need at this time of crisis I regard almost as a form of abuse.” Her words are well taken. A 1992 study reported in the Journal of Social Issues recorded that 81 per cent of women surveyed revealed that they felt victimized by the abortion process, and that they were either coerced into the abortion or that pertinent information about alternatives or abortion itself had been withheld.
The RCP statement arrived at a time when the abortion controversy had been heightened by the news of a well-publicized inquest in Cornwall. The inquest brought to light that a talented artist hanged herself because she could not live with the anxiety associated with having aborted her twins.
The scientifically documentable impact that abortion has on a woman’s mental life is proving to be effective in removing the discussion from the plane of ideology to that of reality. Erika Bachiochi is an at-home mother of three small children and the editor of The Cost of “Choice”: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion. She has made this her spiritual odyssey, though very slowly, from a pie-in-the-sky view of abortion to one that is grounded in terra firma.
When she was a college student, in her junior year at Middlebury College, and one of the leaders in her women’s center, she wrote the following words: “The state’s suppression of a woman’s right to choose (was) simply a perpetuation of the patriarchal nature of our society … To free women from (the) gender hierarchy, women must have a right to do what they please with their bodies.”
In retrospect, these words appear to her to be anything but original, thoughtful, nuanced, or realistic. What led Bachiochi out of the rhetorical wilderness of feminist hyperbole was the realization , amply documented by medical studies, that abortion harms women’s well-being, a glaring fact that is antithetical to any genuine feminism. Medical evidence, sociological data, and the lived experience of women speak more convincingly than ideological blather.
Consistent with the recent RCP statement, the Journal of Anxiety Disorders showed that women who aborted their unintended pregnancies were 30 per cent more likely to report all the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorders than those who had carried their unintended pregnancies to term. A study of a state-funded medical insurance program in California, published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry in 2002 showed that the rate of mental health claims was 17 per cent higher for aborting women than those who allowed their unborn children to be born.
What does abortion involve? Peripherally, it involves economics, convenience, freedom, and choice. But essentially, it centers on the woman herself. More and more, as the gauze of rhetoric is removed, layer by layer, what emerges is the incontestable fact that abortion is bad for women (and there can be no doubt that it is bad for that other essential factor – the unborn child).
Bachiochi writes, the “collected data reveal a serious women’s health issue that must be addressed. Yet all too often the evidence is simply denied or ignored.” It cannot be repeated enough, that choice is not choice where there is no informed consent. In the absence of enlightening information, it is merely a stab in the dark.
Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary.