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    Thursday, February 06, 2003

    Aftermath: I received quite a bit of email about my Tech Central Station column on Technology and Life's Dominion, many of which mentioned the emotional aftermath of abortion. I’m ashamed to say that I hesitated to post anything about it because I assumed that there was no proven emotional impact of abortion. Thanks to an email from someone involved with a national post-abortion counseling program, I’ve rethought my position.

    My understanding was simplistic. Every medical procedure has it’s emotional aftermath, some more so than others. I’ve never had someone come in sobbing and grieving because they’ve had an abortion the way I’ve had someone come in when a family member dies or their spouse leaves them. But then, few people become openly distraught over things they’ve done to themselves. We tend to turn the things we do to ourselves into inner torments without acknowledging their cause.

    Then, too, I had in the back of mind the famous Koop Report on abortion’s consequences. I was an intern when Dr. Koop sent his summary to President Reagan. I never read the letter itself, only the media reports. It has been engraved in my conscience as declaring that there were no emotional or physical consequences of abortion. Silly me. I should have known better. Thanks to Google, I’ve now read the letter. It doesn’t quite say that at all. (I know the letter is posted at a pro-life site, but that’s no reason to doubt the authenticity of the letter itself.) Here are the pertinent findings that Dr. Koop sent to President Reagan (emphasis mine):

    But I have concluded in my review of this issue that, at this time, the available scientific evidence about the psychological sequelae of abortion simply cannot support either the preconceived beliefs of those pro-life or of those pro-choice.

    ...In their view and mine, the data do not support the premise that abortion does or does not cause or contribute to psychological problems. Anecdotal reports abound on both sides. However, individual cases cannot be used to reach scientifically sound conclusions. It is to be noted that when pregnancy, whether wanted or unwanted, comes to full term and delivery, there is a well documented, low incidence of adverse mental health effects.

    ..For the physical situation, data have been gathered on some women after abortions. It has been documented that after abortion there can be infertility, a damaged cervix, miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight babies, etc. But, I further conclude that these events are difficult to quantify and difficult to prove as abortion sequelae for two reasons. First, these events are difficult to quantify because approximately half of abortions are done in free-standing abortion clinics where records which might have been helpful in this regard, have not been kept. Second, when compared with the number of abortions performed annually, 50 percent of women who have had an abortion apparently deny having had one when questioned.

    In other words, the data just weren’t there to make a judgement one way or the other. How different that is from the way the report was reported in the media at the time, which in my recollection was very favorable to abortion. The other eye-opener there is the high rate of denial in women who have had abortions. Makes you wonder how happy they were with that choice. Koop suggested settling the issue by launching a study:

    There has never been a prospective study on a cohort of women of child-bearing age in reference to the variable outcomes of mating. Such a study should include the psychological effects of failure to conceive, as well as the physical and mental sequelae of pregnancy, - planned and unplanned, wanted and unwanted - whether carried to delivery, miscarried, or terminated by abortion. To do such a study that would be above criticism would consume a great deal of time. The most desirable prospective study could be conducted for approximately $100 million over the next five years. A less expensive yet satisfactory study could be conducted for approximately $10 million over the same period of time. This $10 million study could start yielding data after the first year.

    There is a major design problem which must be solved before undertaking any study. It is imperative that any survey instrument be designed to eliminate the discrepancy between the number of abortions on record and the number of women who admit having an abortion on survey. It is critical that this problem of "denial" be dealt with before proceeding with further investigations.

    That study was never done, nor is it likely to be done. That’s a lot of money to put into a study that will meet with a well-funded and well-organized political resistance, not to mention the difficulty of designing it to adequately overcome the denial factor.

    There have been some studies, however, such as this one which showed higher rates of suicide in women who have had abortions, and this one which showed the same seasonal variations in abortion rates and suicide rates among women. These are nowhere near the scale of a study that Dr. Koop had in mind, but their findings should give us some pause. Abortion may be a choice, but is it a choice that everyone can live with?

    posted by Sydney on 2/06/2003 07:54:00 AM 0 comments


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