Ok – so, several months ago I posted a bit of a rant about anti-choice protesters, outlining my frustration with their hypocrisy and with the ways in which they choose to act on their disapproval of abortion.
Early last week, that link must have been shared on the page of an anti-choice group, because I’ve gotten a lot of comments from anti-choice people. These comments have ranged from attempts to provide information and links to demonstrate that abortion is dangerous to name-calling and straight-up lies.
It’s easy to forget how easy I have it sometimes as a feminist; all of my close friends are brilliant critical thinkers and feminists, so I rarely encounter people who hold strong anti-feminist views. I was stunned by the inconsistencies, logical fallacies, and factual inaccuracies that were being shouted at me (often, while simultaneously calling me and the pro-choice side liars).
I tried to reply to some of the comments calmly and rationally, but quickly realized that that was not a practical or efficient response. However, the fact that they were using actual untruths as “evidence” for their agenda was something I couldn’t let go. My poor friends had to listen to me talking about those comments for days.
I’m not really sure why I’ve spent so much time researching this post. It’s certainly not because I think I’ll change anyone’s minds. I know that’s hopeless. Research has shown “misinformation is ‘sticky’ and is often resistant to correction” and that being presented with facts or research to the contrary can actually strengthen people’s incorrect beliefs (source).
It’s also not to inform my regular readers; I’m sure most of you realize that legal abortion is a safe procedure, and are probably kind of sick of having the same arguments over and over (I know I am).
I think it’s because of how scared it makes me that the people who are spreading these lies are gaining traction; in America alone “In 2013 alone, 22 states enacted 70 antiabortion measures, including previability abortion bans, unwarranted doctor and clinic regulations, limits on the provision of medication abortion and bans on insurance coverage of abortion. However, 2013 was not even the year with the greatest number of new state-level abortion restrictions, as 2011 saw 92 enacted; 43 abortion restrictions were enacted by states in 2012” (source).
The number of myths and lies about abortion is probably in the bazillions (that’s a rough estimate). In order to figure out which ones to address in this post, I went back to the comments on the original post. I’ve pulled direct quotes from the people who commented to give you a feel for their arguments. If you want to go back to the original post to get an idea of the context of the comments, go for it.
I’m not going to argue morality here. I’m not arguing religion or personhood. I’m just talking facts.
(Also, I’m going to have to divide this into a couple of posts, because there is a LOT of information.)
Myth: abortion causes sterility.
“To suffer an abortion that could leave you sterile ,unable to bear another child or with severe mental and physical problems ..more open to breast cancer and a broken woman“
This one is blatantly false.
“No clinical procedure is entirely risk-free, but abortion poses few risks to a woman’s physical health, particularly when carried out during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy” (source).
“In the UK, most women who have an abortion don’t have any complications and their fertility isn’t affected.
However, a small number of women (see below) have complications, such as:
- a severe infection, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- damage to the womb (uterus)
Complications such as these can affect fertility” (source).
It’s important to note that PID can also be caused by childbirth, and is not a condition unique to abortion (source).
“Abortions performed in the first trimester pose virtually no long-term risk of such problems as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries” (source).
“Generally, abortion isn’t thought to cause fertility issues or complications in subsequent pregnancies” (source).
“There is no evidence that would suggest having a straightforward, uncomplicated abortion can cause infertility or reduce your chances of having a healthy baby at any point in the future. In fact, you will be very fertile immediately after having an abortion and can fall pregnant again straight away” (source).
Myth: Abortion causes mental or emotional issues.
“Every abortion has the same result – a dead baby and a traumatised mother.“
The myth that a woman who has an abortion ends up traumatized, with lasting emotional wounds, is one that will not die, potentially because anti-choice people can always seem to mention individuals that they personally know who were traumatized by abortion. But let’s remember, the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”.
Women’s mental state after an abortion will vary, obviously. However, research has shown that there is no causal link between abortion and mental health issues.
“Major medical bodies have found that induced abortions do not cause mental-health problems, and that the risk of mental-health problems is equal whether an unplanned pregnancy is carried to term or terminated via abortion. Pre-existing factors in a woman’s life, such as emotional attachment to the pregnancy, lack of social support, pre-existing psychiatric illness, and conservative views on abortion increase the likelihood of experiencing negative feelings after an abortion” (source).
“research suggests that having an abortion does not lead to long-term emotional or psychological problems” (source).
“Many international studies have shown that women who have had an abortion are no more likely to experience long-term psychological or emotional problems than women who haven’t had an abortion” (source).
“Supporting a woman’s abortion decision-making process, addressing the division of labor between women and men regarding pregnancy prevention, abortion and childrearing, and offering nonjudgmental support may guide interventions designed to reduce emotional distress after abortion” (source).
On the other hand, pregnancy is actually shown to cause some mental health issues.
“Depressive illness occurs in around one in 10 new mothers in the year following the birth of their baby” (source).
I’m not including that fact in order to speak negatively about the decision to become pregnant or have a child. Just to put the claims in perspective.
“Dr Philip Ney you will find has done intensive research into the aftermath of abortion so much so there is an illness named Post abortion syndrome.
You should look him up and find out the true affects of what abortion does to harm women, babies and society on the whole.”
If you Google Philip Ney, you’ll find that in the first few pages of results he isn’t mentioned anywhere but on religiously-affiliated or anti-choice sites. I’d hesitate to refer to one man’s religiously-motivated studies as revealing the “true affects” of abortion when so much reputable research indicates otherwise.
A good friend of mine did some research on some of these topics, as he’s a scientist and therefore very interested in facts. He cited a study that states “The alleged ‘postabortion trauma syndrome’ does not exist” (source).
“Abortion is known to affect a woman sometimes years later so how can this be accounted for? Sometimes 20, 30 years later.“
Also false. This abstract from a review of long-term mental health outcomes after abortion demonstrates that.
“It has been argued that the emotional sequelae of abortion may not occur until months or years after the event. Despite unclear evidence on such a phenomenon, adverse mental health outcomes of abortion have been used as a rationale for policy-making. We systematically searched for articles focused on the potential association between abortion and long-term mental health outcomes […]. We rated the study quality based on methodological factors necessary to appropriately explore the research question. […]. A clear trend emerges from this systematic review: the highest quality studies had findings that were mostly neutral, suggesting few, if any, differences between women who had abortions and their respective comparison groups in terms of mental health sequelae. Conversely, studies with the most flawed methodology found negative mental health sequelae of abortion” (source).
“Surely having heard many first hand experiences with abortion plus reading hundreds of cases of post-abortive women’s experiences count for something more concrete than the study above?”
Well, the thing is, no. It doesn’t. Stories you have heard do not count more than research. If they did, why would anyone bother to do research? Obviously if you already believe that abortion causes emotional trauma to a woman, you are going to want to believe the stories you have heard (although I would be curious as to where these hundreds of cases that indicate trauma are coming from). But research shows that it does not.
“Currently, there are active attempts to convince the public and women considering abortion that abortion frequently has negative psychiatric consequences. This assertion is not borne out by the literature: the vast majority of women tolerate abortion without psychiatric sequelae” (source).
Myth: abortion is generally dangerous to the mother.
“Leading experts have concluded that, among women who have an unplanned pregnancy, the risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single first-trimester abortion than if they carry the pregnancy to term” (source).
“For many women an abortion is safer than actually having the baby at full term. There are no known long term effects of having an abortion” (source).
This chart shows some of the possible complications of pregnancy.
“The risk of death associated with abortion increases with the length of pregnancy, from one death for every one million abortions at or before eight weeks to one per 29,000 at 16–20 weeks—and one per 11,000 at 21 weeks or later” (source).
So even at its most dangerous, abortion causes 9.1 deaths per 100,000, compared to 24 per 100,000 for childbirth (anyone want to check my math on that?). However, given that in the US, 71.7% of abortions are performed before 8 weeks’ gestation and in the UK 78% happen before 10 weeks’ (with 91-92% happening before 13 weeks in both countries (same sources)), that number of 9.1 deaths is not representative of the number of women who actually die after abortion; the actual number is much lower.
Again, I am not posting these statistics to thumb my nose at pregnancy or childbirth, but to put the statistics regarding abortion into a perspective.
Myth: abortion causes breast cancer.
“For your info, the abortion-breast cancer link has actually been known about since 1957 (study carried out in Japan, by Segi et al). A number of independent studies have confirmed the link since then.”
This research paper, titled ‘The Breast Cancer Epidemic: Modeling and Forecasts Based on Abortion and Other Risk Factors’ was published in a 2007 edition of the American Journal of Physicians and Surgeons.”
“In the Fall of 2007, Patrick S. Carroll published a statistical analysis in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, a politically conservative journal with a pro-life stance.[…] In a Guardian editorial, Libby Brooks criticized Carroll’s study, alleging that the study’s methodology was flawed, that the study was funded by an anti-abortion group, and that it was published in a “right wing” journal” (source).
“Exhaustive reviews by panels convened by the U.S. and British governments have concluded that there is no association between abortion and breast cancer. There is also no indication that abortion is a risk factor for other cancers” (source).
“Induced abortions have no overall effect on the risk of breast cancer” (source).
“Pregnancies that end as a spontaneous or induced abortion do not increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Collectively, the studies of breast cancer with retrospective recording of induced abortion yielded misleading results, possibly because women who had developed breast cancer were, on average, more likely than other women to disclose previous induced abortions” (source).
“Still, a full-term pregnancy after age 30 is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer than never giving birth” (source).
“In 2003, the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) held a workshop of more than 100 of the world’s leading experts who study pregnancy and breast cancer risk. The experts reviewed human and animal studies that looked at the link between pregnancy and breast cancer risk, including studies of induced and spontaneous abortions. Some of their findings were:
- Breast cancer risk is increased for a short time after a full-term pregnancy (that is, a pregnancy that results in the birth of a living child).
- Induced abortion is not linked to an increase in breast cancer risk.
- Spontaneous abortion is not linked to an increase in breast cancer risk.
The level of scientific evidence for these findings was considered to be “well established” (the highest level)” (source).