Abortion Suicide Link Fails a Court Test

Friday, September 30, 2011

An appeals court struck a suicide advisory from a South Dakota abortion law, underscoring decades of research finding no link between the procedure and mental health disorders. But the idea of psychological harm remains active in several states.

(WOMENSENEWS)--The appeal of South Dakota's 2005 "informed consent" law on abortion gave pro-choice advocates a sliver of victory earlier this month.

A doctor is still required to tell a woman that an abortion "ends a human life" 24 hours ahead of the procedure, to give her time to reconsider. The court upheld that essential part of the script citing a previous ruling on First Amendment freedom of speech grounds.

But the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis said a section requiring doctors to describe "all known medical risks" of abortion -- including an increased risk "of suicide ideation and suicide"-- must be removed. That frees doctors to use professional judgment when informing patients of the potential risks.

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"We are very happy to have the Eighth Circuit confirm what reliable medical professionals have been saying for years," said Mimi Liu, who represented the case as the staff attorney of the Planned Parenthood national office, in Washington, D.C. "It has been a long road."

She said the quashing of the suicide advisory could affect other states considering advisories on a linkage between abortion and psychological distress. "No other state has tried to pass a similar provision since this law was passed in 2005, I suppose in part because of waiting to see what happened here," said Liu.

Planned Parenthood brought the suit against South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, Attorney General Marty Jackley, representatives from "pro-life" medical groups and two crisis pregnancy centers, run by Christian organizations in the United States and around the world, that encourage women to avoid abortions and carry through with all pregnancies.

The issue, however, has not been completely put to rest in South Dakota.

A re-hearing petition is now making the rounds with Priscilla Coleman, professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green University in Bowling Green, Ohio, who is on board to provide expert testimony.

Study Finds Risks

In a recent analysis of 22 studies conducted between 1995 and 2009, published by The British Journal of Psychiatry, Coleman found "a moderate to highly increased risk" of mental health problems after abortion, including suicidal behavior.

"I'm hoping that the research will get attention from professional organizations and that evidence-based counseling will make its way into the abortion services available," said Coleman.

The court is expected to make a decision in October on hearing the appeal, which is being brought by Alpha Center and Black Hills, two crisis pregnancy centers. Also, the state may be petitioning for further review, says Planned Parenthood. Petitions are due today.

Meanwhile, much of the script was either upheld or modified.

"We are very pleased that more of the informed consent law was found constitutional," said Valerie Johnson, board member of South Dakota Right to Life. "South Dakotans know that when a woman is given more information about her developing unborn child, she is more likely to choose life for that child."

South Dakota was the first, and only, state to include the risk of suicide in an abortion-specific informed consent law.

But, some states have found other ways to suggest a mental health risk.

"It gets murky when you get into what states have included in their written abortion counseling materials," said Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate at Guttmacher Institute, the New York-based provider of reproductive health research. "In some states abortion counseling includes a section in the written materials that says something along the lines of 'abortion can be difficult emotionally, some women feel relief while others have negative feelings. If those feelings continue a woman should seek the help of a mental health professional.'"

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Does this mean that pregnant women must be told by their doctors that 13% of them will get post-partum depression? Or that 80% of new mothers experience the "lesser" form, often called "baby blues," as the realities of child rearing take hold? Shall women with more than one child, especially women without partners or without jobs outside the home, be informed that their chance of serious, incapacitating depression increases exponentially as the children grow?

How about the physical effects of pregnancy? In addition to the obvious physical changes in the body and the scarring from episiotomies or c-sections, 35% of mothers become incontinent after giving birth. 50% of mothers experience later stage consequences including unresolvable incontinence after 55. We won't even discuss how the pressure on women to look wonderful after giving birth makes all this even more stressful.

Will doctors be forced to tell mothers that their chances of financial security are hobbled by having children? That their relationships will become strained by the responsibilities of child rearing? That being a mother can be considered as part of their work evaluation?

What always amazes me when I read these articles is that they fail to mention the "research" done by the APA was done by Brenda Major, PhD, a major pro abort.

They also fail to contact organizations like Lumina, Silent No More, Operation Outcry and others who have thousands of post abortive women who would beg to differ with their finding through personal experience with abortion.

Stacy Zallie left her parents a note saying she committed suicide due to an abortion. How many others have taken their life without anyone knowing of a prior abortion? Abortion hurts countless women. It is time people began listening to us who have had them.

Well said, Theresa! The research upon which this change was made was inadequate, and once again not asking the people who themselves have had an abortion, or families of women who have suicided after an abortion. I hope no other states follow this unless and until more thorough attention is given to those actually involved.
There really does need to be more attention paid to the dilemma of women who feel an abortion is their only option due to impossible life circumstances if they had a child. Few are actually helping these women and girls, leaving them with little choice. Sometimes, a pregnancy is an enforcement of keeping a woman at home or in some other way at the mercy of a very humbling situation where the idea of personal empowerment is not possible for her.