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24 September 2008

Abortion and Mental Illness


Critics of abortion often claim that a woman who terminates a pregnancy will suffer mental anguish and guilt as a result. The theory seems to be that even if a woman explicitly believes that her abortion is morally right, her own moral conscience, tuned as it is to God's law, knows that she's wrong.

Even if that were true, it would not be a reason to ban abortion. Adultery causes mental anguish and guilt, but in a free society, the government respects the fact that people can and ought to be allowed to make their own decisions, and suffer consequences accordingly. Similarly, because embryos and fetus are not persons with a right to life, the government ought to protect a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy, even for the wrong reasons. (For more argument on that score, read CSG's issue paper, written by Ari Armstrong and myself: Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person.)

Moreover, the claim that abortion damages the psyche is obviously a flight of Christian fancy, based on faith and dogma rather than any dispassionate analysis of the facts. So -- suprise, suprise -- a recent study shows no empirical basis for it:

Women who choose to abort an unwanted pregnancy may experience feelings of grief and loss, but there is no evidence that a single abortion causes significant mental health problems, a panel of the American Psychological Association reported after two years of study. The findings are almost identical to a similar review by the association in 1990. "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 or deliver that pregnancy," Brenda Major, chairwoman of the panel, said in a statement. But the report also found that many of the more than 150 studies it reviewed had major flaws, and it called for better-designed studies "to help disentangle confounding factors" like income and medical history.
Of course, a woman might regret an abortion, whether rightly or wrongly. However, God does not seem to be infusing these supposed murderers with horrible suffering and guilt.

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