Monday, 13 June 2011

Myth Busting Monday: 'Post Abortion Syndrome is a recognised medical condition'

In light of this recent story about a nurse distributing an anti-abortion booklet to colleagues we thought it was important to address one particular myth being bandied about in the media regarding abortion and mental health. The myth of ‘post-abortion syndrome’.
The booklet in question is produced by an organisation called Forsaken. Their website states that:

‘This book is about the reality of Post Abortion Syndrome (also known as "Post Abortion Stress", "Post Abortion Trauma" or "Post Abortion Stress Syndrome").

The book features ‘five true stories written by women from Taunton who have gone through post abortion, some of whom have found healing and release.’

EFC believes that information about abortion and services for women following abortion should acknowledge their wide range of responses to abortion: from satisfaction and relief, to sadness or regret. Now this blog isn’t about denying individual women’s experiences of their own abortion or their beliefs and feelings about abortion in general. However, as there is no evidence that women generally experience trauma following abortion EFC cannot support Forsaken’s claims about Post-Abortion Syndrome. That it causes women who have had abortions to suffer this long list of problems, or that it exists as a medical condition at all.

As the American Psychological Association makes clear in its comprehensive report on abortion and mental health, the study on which the case for ‘PAS’ is based is extremely unreliable:

‘Speckhard and Rue (1992; Rue, 1991, 1995) posited that the traumatic experience of abortion can lead to serious mental health problems for which they coined the term postabortion syndrome (PAS). They conceptualized PAS as a specific form of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comparable to the symptoms experienced by Vietnam veterans, including symptoms of trauma, such as flashbacks and denial, and symptoms such as depression, grief, anger, shame, survivor guilt,and substance abuse. Speckhard (1985,1987) developed the rationale for PAS in her doctoral dissertation in which she interviewed 30 women specifically recruited because they deemed a prior abortion experience (occurring from 1 to 25 years previously) to have been “highly stressful.” Forty-six percent of the women in her sample had second-trimester abortions, and 4% had third-trimester abortions; some had abortions when it was illegal. As noted above, this self-selected sample is not typical of U.S. women who obtain abortions. PAS is not recognized as a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.'

Ellie Lee of the University of Southampton has written about the myth of ‘post-abortion syndrome’ in the UK:

‘In the light of the substantial amount of evidence against the existence of Post Abortion Syndrome, it is perhaps surprising that the claim for PAS retains any credibility...Evidence from the research literature suggests that, in the aggregate, legal abortion of an unwanted pregnancy does not pose a psychological hazard for most women. They tend to cope successfully and go on with their lives. There is no credible evidence for the existence of a Post Abortion Syndrome’.

Yes, women should be given information on pregnancy options, including all possible risks to their physical or mental health following childbirth and abortion. But this information needs to be evidence-based and scientifically sound if we want them to make confident, informed decisions. Deliberately misinforming women about risks to further an ideological agenda is profoundly unethical.

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