Serious Flaws in Study
Purporting to Show No Depression Risk for Post-Abortive Teens
"A skimpy, superficial assessment"
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By Liz Townsend
Priscilla K. Coleman,
A study in the
pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute's journal, Perspectives on
Sexual and Reproductive Health, claims to show that adolescents
who have abortions have no increased risk of depression or low
self-esteem. The study, published not in a peer-reviewed journal
but in a publication of the former research arm of Planned
Parenthood, attempts to contradict recent studies that have
shown the mental health risks of abortion.
However, Priscilla K.
Coleman, Ph.D., an expert on abortion and its effects on women,
has identified numerous flaws in the study that "seriously
compromise" its findings, beginning with its small sample size.
The study data was taken
from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which
surveyed adolescents in grades 7–12 beginning in 1994–95, asking
the same group questions every few years. The journal article's
authors, Jocelyn T. Warren and S. Marie Harvey of Oregon State
University and Jillian T. Henderson of the University of
California, San Francisco, extracted answers that girls gave in
1994–1995, 1995–96, and 2001–02.
The authors concluded that
only girls who had depression or low self-esteem before their
abortion had those problems afterward. "The only predictor of
depression ... was prior depression," they wrote. In addition,
"Low self-esteem prior to the pregnancy was the only significant
predictor of low self-esteem."
They also attempt to use
their results to denigrate laws requiring counseling before
abortion that includes a full discussion of risks and
alternatives. "[L]aws mandating that women considering abortion
be advised of its psychological risks may jeopardize women's
health by adding unnecessary anxiety and undermining women's
right to informed consent," according to Warren et al.
professor of human development and family studies at Bowling
Green State University, told NRL News that the authors'
conclusions are based on only 69 adolescent girls who had
abortions. "This sample doesn't have the statistical power to
predict events," she said.
The study's authors admit
that their sample size was too small, but made broad conclusions
based on the results anyway. "The lack of association between
abortion and our outcomes could reflect other factors, including
insufficient sample size to detect an effect," they wrote.
In addition, these 69
girls were compared to 220 girls who had gotten pregnant but who
did not have abortions--which included girls who had a live
birth, stillbirth, or miscarriage. Coleman said that a much
better comparison group would have been girls who had unintended
pregnancies but who delivered their babies.
Beyond the sample size,
the responses used as measures of depression and low self-esteem
were inadequate, according to Coleman. The determination of
depression was based on an abbreviated nine-item scale and the
self-esteem measure included only four questions. "It is a
skimpy, superficial assessment," she said.
Coleman has worked with
the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health data as
well and knows that it can be used in a much more thorough and
comprehensive way. "In a study I published in 2006, using the
same data and incorporating unintended pregnancy delivered as
the control group, I found significant associations between
abortion history and marijuana usage, having received counseling
for psychological or emotional problems, and sleep
difficulties," she said. "Seeking professional counseling
services is a much more valid measure of psychological distress
than abbreviated self-report measures, one of which is merely
'predictive of depression.'"
Coleman told HealthDay
News that about 10 percent to 20 percent of women who have
abortions "are seriously negatively affected." The data "show
that some women are traumatized," she said. "It can be a
life-changing negative decision for a lot of women. They deserve
up front to know what the risks are."