On Monday, lifestyle website Mamamia published a story on post-abortion syndrome. And then promptly removed it. The hugely popular women’s news and gossip site came under heavy fire for spreading misinformation. Other news outlets interviewed health professionals and pro-choice advocates who called post-abortion syndrome a “myth” and claimed there is no research to support the view that abortion is damaging to women’s mental health.

We asked for a response from Real Choices Australia executive director Debbie Garratt, who is also a registered nurse and a doctoral researcher in abortion discourse.

This week’s removal of an article on post-abortion syndrome from the Mamamia website isn’t surprising and is a symptom of a discourse determined to censor out any perceived threat to abortion rights.

The reasons given for its removal in this BuzzFeed article include that the facts within the article were not verified and that those facts that do support adverse harm from abortion have been ‘repeatedly and emphatically debunked’.

This is completely untrue. The fact is that there is substantial evidence of adverse psychological harm from abortion with researchers on both sides of the ideological divide reaching similar conclusions. Self-described pro-choice atheist David Fergusson, a New Zealand researcher, says he was surprised at the results of his research which supported those of other prominent researchers, that abortion can indeed lead to significant psychological harm in some women.

He further lamented how difficult it is to get such research published, which of course adds to the challenges of health professionals to access the full range of information they should have access to as well. Fergusson states that if such adverse effects were found in other situations, such as with medications, there would be an ethical obligation to publish the information.

While I am not in agreement with the diagnosis of a syndrome in women after abortion, there is definitive evidence that a significant number of women do suffer psychological harm. Their experiences are varied and include increased risks of depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse and increased risk of suicide. Contrary to pro-abortion criticism this research has not been debunked, with Fergusson upholding the research as both methodologically sound and the findings consistent with his own.

With measurable mental health harm impacting 10% of women after abortion, women are entitled to know this information and to have their personal risks accurately assessed.   The number of women who suffer grief, regret and other serious impacts that aren’t measured as mental health problems would be much greater than this.

An ABC radio interview with RANZCOG representative Charlotte Elder provided a forum for the dissemination of more disinformation which upholds the rights-based rhetoric but adds further confusion for women who struggle to make sense of the information they need to be fully informed before having an abortion.

Elder makes several unsupported statements including that there is no evidence of a link between abortion and mental health harm. Interestingly, even the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists disagrees, stating that:

“…adverse psychological outcomes are common enough to justify availability of expert counselling and support services for every woman undergoing a termination of pregnancy.”

They recommend that health professionals need to be alert to psychological effects and provide appropriate assessment and referral for women.

My PhD research raises important questions about whether health professionals are in any way equipped to do this even when they are aware of the evidence. The dominant discourse of abortion is so powerful that practitioners across the ideological spectrum are effectively silenced on abortion harm. Some because they fear the professional backlash, others because they value abortion rights more than a woman’s right to know what she may risk by having an abortion. The ideology of abortion rights has even been enshrined in law in Victoria where doctors are forced to self-identify if they do not refer for abortion, thereby maligning them as unable to provide accurate information or care for women.

Elder holds herself up as a person who relies solely on the evidence and that anyone who disagrees with her position wants to “keep the myth alive” (of mental health harm) and don’t want women to access abortion. She recommends abortion providers and a single state based website as the best sources of information.

While the dominant discourse silences any dissent from abortion rights and allows only information that paints abortion as positive, women are the losers. They are often not exposed to information that could be relevant to their circumstances about abortion harm and, if they do find it, they are confused by the rhetoric that anything that might suggest harm is anti-woman and not to be trusted.

Debbie Garratt
Real Choices Australia

Find out more about abortion risks and procedures HERE.

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