One of the pieces of anti-choice propaganda that irritates me most is the whole mythology of abortion as emotionally destructive. You know the story. We're all led to believe, by after-school specials, anti-choice ads, and local stories about that girl who was institutionalized after an abortion, that women who have abortions are guilt-ridden and miserable after the event. They do things like marking their baby's birthday, crying every time they see a small child, and engaging in a whole set of destructive behaviours.
It's just not true. The National Abortion Federation has an extensive examination of what they refer to as the myth of 'Post Abortion Syndrome
. Check out I'm Not Sorry
, for personal stories about positive abortion experiences. Or ask around. You probably all know at least one woman who's had an abortion; chances are really good that she doesn't feel bad about it. For some women, like me, the experience is actually an incredibly positive one, rather than a haunting, negative thing.
Despite overwhelming evidence developed through years of research world-wide, many researchers continue to carry out research intended to demonstrate that abortion is bad for women. A recent example of this is a study published in BMC Medicine
which suggests that women who undergo medical abortion experience significantly more distress over time than women who have miscarriages.
The researchers found that while women who experience spontaneous abortion experience more emotional distress immediately after the event, women who undergo medical abortion experience 'significantly more' distress, including guilt, avoidance, and anger up to two and five years later.
That sounds serious. Abortion must be really bad for women, right? Or not. Despite how it sounds, 'statistically significant' does not mean 'significant in real life'. A difference of one point on a psych assessment scale could be statistically significant, which means that it's unlikely the difference happened by chance and is most likely the result of the variable being studied. But using that single point on a scale to indicate that some women are emotionally screwed up while others is not is like taking the one inch difference between my height and my roommate's height and saying that means she's tall and I'm short. In reality, the difference may not mean anything at all.
All it takes is one new study, though, and everyone is talking again about how abortion makes women feel awful. In this case it's one weak, badly executed study using a small, unmatched sample, relying on notoriously unreliable self-report data about very subjective emotions which are measured using loaded questions.
After conducting an extensive review of the available research about abortion, an American Medical Association panel concluded this: "research with diverse samples, different measures of response, and different times of assessment have come to similar conclusions. The time of greatest distress is likely to be before the abortion. Severe negative reactions after abortions are rare and can best be understood in the framework of coping with normal life stress."2 Their statement sums up what I want to say about this. Sure, some women experience bad things after an abortion, but "while some women may experience sensations of regret, sadness or guilt after an abortion, the overwhelming responses are relief and happiness". The course of mental health after miscarriage and induced abortion: a longitudinal, five-year follow-up study