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Liberals are reveling over a recently published study that declares women who undergo abortions do not experience negative mental health effects. Despite the fact that the findings are dubious, defying decades of arguments presented by pro-life advocates who have argued the exact opposite, the implications for public policy that institutionalizes evil are too grave to be ignored. As the pro-abortion voice grows louder in this country, the pro-life movement must be prepared to pivot and adapt to combat progressive lies with irrefutable truth.

The research and its bold conclusions from the JAMA Network study have been presented by progressive media outlets as a victory for “science-denying” abortion advocacy groups.

The study has been touted as one of the most extensive of its kind. Over the course of five years, researchers tracked 956 women who sought abortions in the U.S. Out of this group, 231 were turned away from abortion clinics because they were too far along in their pregnancies. Of those 231 women, 161 ended up giving birth.

In the end, the researchers found that those who were denied an abortion were more likely to experience “adverse psychological outcomes” within the first year of having a child. After this period, however, their symptoms leveled out with the participants who obtained an abortion.

From the study summary:

In this study, compared with having an abortion, being denied an abortion may be associated with greater risk of initially experiencing adverse psychological outcomes. Psychological well-being improved over time so that both groups of women eventually converged. These findings do not support policies that restrict women’s access to abortion on the basis that abortion harms women’s mental health.

For pro-choice advocates, the study is vindicating. It’s a slap in the face to pro-life fear-mongers who try “shame” women and defund abortion giant Planned Parenthood. “See? Science supports us,” they’ll say.

Not so fast, though.

Selective Editing

The study’s limitations are significant. Not only did less than half of the women who were approached about the study agree to participate, but 42 percent of the women stopped responding to the authors’ inquiries, before the end of the five-year window. Thus, the study’s authors admit that they “cannot rule out the possibility that women with adverse mental health outcomes may have been less likely to participate and/or to be retained.”

Coverage of the study in mainstream media outlets like The Atlantic and The New York Times did not mention the limitations outlined above. But the study’s primary author, Dr. M. Antonia Biggs, did admit to The New York Times that the results of the study “might not be very pro-choicy,” since the study discovered that women who had their babies after being turned away from an abortion were not more likely to suffer from mental health problems.

The study concludes that “there is no evidence to justify laws that require women seeking abortion to be forewarned about negative psychological responses.” That is a big claim for a study with such significant limitations. First, no one can definitively say that the women who had abortions didn’t experience any psychological consequences; there’s no way of knowing the wellbeing of the women who initially agreed to participate in the study but later became unresponsive (as the study admits).

Further, the report by Dr. Biggs et al. also admits that “some have argued that the negative psychological effects of abortion are delayed or occur over the longer term,” in which case the five-year span is insufficient for a comprehensive conclusion.

Hidden Truths

In 2006, Prof. David M. Fergusson of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Christchurch, New Zealand, released a study on the mental health effects of abortion. Fergusson, a pro-choice atheist, thought the 25-year project would reveal that women who undergo abortions are no less at risk for mental health problems. What he found instead, however, was that “women who had had abortions had rates of mental disorder that were about 30% higher.”

Asked why a subject as contentious and longstanding as the abortion debate hasn’t featured more research like his, Fergusson explained on Australia’s ABC Local Radio that the rigid nature and bias surrounding the debate present a huge barrier to dialogue and progress (“particularly so in the US of A”). He even stated that he and his colleagues experienced difficulties in getting the study published.

If women didn’t experience negative psychological effects after having an abortion, one would assume there wouldn’t be a need for post-abortion counseling. So if studies like the recent JAMA report are true, why is there a robust, nationwide market for these services?

Conservative Review recently spoke with Sister Mary Teresa of the Sisters of Life in New York City. During her 18 years of serving post-abortive mothers, Sr. Mary has witnessed the manifold psychological struggles that these women face.

“It affects every area of their life,” she said. “It goes against the natural instinct — their maternal instinct. And they know it.”

Sr. Mary listed some of the common symptoms she sees among the more than 200 new women that visit the mission each year: “Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicidal ideation, addiction, eating disorders, sleeping disturbances, nightmares …”

“They all said that … even during the abortion they knew that it was wrong,” she said. “They knew that it was a baby. They knew that it was a taking of a life. And, right there in that, it just tears down every area of their life.”

Sr. Mary said studies like the JAMA report make the type of women she serves feel helpless, misunderstood, and misrepresented.

“All of society's just in denial about this,” she said, “which is complicating matters for those seeking healing. Because they feel like their feelings are not validated.”

Every year at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., women from the Silent No More campaign share their testimonies of how abortion permanently altered their lives. The Silent No More website features hundreds of stories from mothers, fathers, and family members who were negatively shaped by abortion.  

“All of society is wounded by this,” Sr. Mary said. “It affects everybody and everything.”

The bottom line: The best evidence that pro-choice researchers could come up with on the abortion-mental health front is still deeply flawed, and it would be a grave mistake to let it inform public policy.

But let’s just say, for a moment, that the JAMA study’s conclusions are true. If abortion doesn’t affect the mental health of the mother whatsoever, can the argument for placing restrictions on abortions still be made?

The answer is absolutely yes, according to Sr. Mary Teresa, for the simple reason that abortion is “the taking of a life.” But in order to push the ideology of moral relativism, where right and wrong are matters of “choice” and perspective, the pro-choice movement tries to make people forget this truth. The fact that some people are desensitized to this truth isn’t “progress” — it’s evil.

“It's so painful to have to look at this, you know?” said Sr. Mary Teresa. “And to deal with it, that they have to make it right. You know? They have to work extra hard to make it OK, to make it right. Because it's too painful — too hard to look at the wrong in their lives.”

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Maria Jeffrey and Carly Hoilman are correspondents for Conservative Review. You can follow them on Twitter @MariaTJeffrey and @CarlyHoilman