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Bad science in the British Journal of Psychiatry

Would you believe that “”the largest, most definitive analysis of the mental health risks associated with abortion, synthesizing the results of 22 studies published between 1995 and 2009 involving 877,181 women, of whom 163,831 had abortions” has determined that “abortion harms women’s mental health”? It concludes that “10% of all mental health problems and 34.9% of all suicides in women of reproductive age” are caused by abortion. Here’s the author’s own summary of the results.

Women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10% of the incidence of mental health problems was shown to be attributable to abortion. The strongest subgroup estimates of increased risk occurred when abortion was compared with term pregnancy and when the outcomes pertained to substance use and suicidal behaviour.

Those numbers are so extravagantly extreme that there ought to be alarm bells going off in your head right now, and the research had better be darned thorough and unimpeachably clean.

As it turns out, it isn’t. The author of the paper, Priscilla Coleman, is an anti-abortion advocate, and 11 of the 22 studies sampled for the meta-analysis are by…Priscilla Coleman. Methinks there might be a hint of publication bias there, something that has been confirmed statistically by Ben Goldacre.

Jim Coyne has carried out a thorough dissection of the paper, exposing the statistical games she played with the data.

If you examine Figures 1 and 2 in Coleman’s review, you can see that she counts each of her own studies multiple times in her calculation of the effects attributable to abortion. This practice was also roundly criticized in the E-letter responses to her article because each study should only be entered once, if the conditions are met for integrating results of studies in a meta-analysis and providing a test of the statistical significance of the resulting effect size. This may sound like a technical point, but it is something quite basic and taught in any Meta-Analysis 101.

Coleman’s calculation of overall effect sizes for the negative mental health effects of abortion involve integrating multiple effects obtained from the same flawed studies into a single effect size that cannot accurately characterize any of the individual effects – anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide – that went into it. Again we are encountering a nonsensical statistic.

And just how good were the papers that Coleman chose to include in her meta-analysis? She claims they were the best, and that others were excluded because of their poor quality, but it seems other investigators hold her work in low esteeem.

…an APA task force report did find that Coleman studies—the ones she included in her meta analysis—had inadequate or inappropriate controls and did not adequately control for women’s mental health prior to the pregnancy and abortion. A similar verdict about Coleman’s work was contained in the draft Royal College of Psychiatrists report that also considered the bulk of her work too weak and biased to be entered into an evaluation of the effects of abortion on mental health.

I did find this comment by Jim Coyne bitterly amusing.

Readers should be to assume that the conclusions of a meta-analysis published in a prestigious journal are valid. After all, the article survived rigorous peer review and probably was strengthened by revisions made in the authors’ response to a likely “revise and resubmit” decision.

Obviously, you can’t assume that. This is a case where the editors and reviewers failed to do their jobs, and that happens way too often…and now this study has been thoroughly politicized and is being touted by the anti-abortion wackaloons to argue that abortion must be banned…for the good of the women. Which is probably one of the few times they’ve given a damn about the women involved.

But if you want a good, straightforward summary of why Coleman’s paper should have been rejected, that last link is it.

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. Great White Whale from Outerspace says

    no, like medicine isn’t a science it’s applied discipline, but both of those are based on science, or should be based.

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Coleman is pushing an anti-abortion agenda and her studies confirm her bias.

    Not surprisingly, over 50% of the “acceptable” studies she uses as her “evidence” are those done by her and her colleagues Cougle and Reardon. The work of this group has been soundly critiqued not just by us (1, 2) but by many others as being logically inconsistent and substantially inflated by faulty methodologies. As noted by the Royal Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (3), the authors consistently fail to differentiate between an association and a causal relationship and repeatedly fail to control for pre-existing mental health problems.

    -Gail E. Robinson, Professor of Psychiatry & Obstetrics/Gynecology, Nada L. Stotland, Carol C. Nadelson
    University of Toronto BJP September 2011 199:180-186

  3. unbound says

    Unfortunately, this is problem that has been invited by dragging statistics into scientific analysis. I agree whole-heartedly with the poor work done by Priscilla (which appears to be amplified by her own personal bias), but it may surprise many people that most nutritional studies are nearly as poor and meaningless (as are a number of other studies in sciences that rely heavily on statistics as their best evidence). Yet people accept that nonsense as if it was scientifically proven fact when nearly all of that work is no more than statistical correlation (and typically very weak correlation at that).

    And that is in trying to determine optimal nutrition for processes that are pretty well understood and behave relatively consistently; I can only imagine trying to develop a solid understanding of trauma in only moderately well understood human emotions. Statistics is a wonderful tool that allows us to have observations that we might otherwise miss, but they should be treated only as observations…not conclusions.

    Any chance of the British Journalism of Psychiatry doing a retraction of the nonsense?

  4. raven says

    Abortion Typically Doesn’t Harm Mental Health: Studywww.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/649279.htmlCached
    You +1’d this publicly. Undo
    26 Jan 2011 – Some previous studies had found that abortion might negatively affect mental health, and the authors of the Danish study noted that it’s not …

    Abortion Doesn’t Increase Mental Health Risk, But Having A Baby ...www.huffingtonpost.com/…/abortion-mental-health_n_814582.htmlCached
    You +1’d this publicly. Undo
    26 Jan 2011 – The research by Danish scientists further debunks the notion that terminating a … Abortion and mental health – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia …

    More than a few studies have found no such effect of abortion on mental health. The Danish study used over 300,000 subjects and found that having a baby was far more of a threat to mental health. This makes sense, an abortion is over and done with but it takes 18 years at least, to recover from childbirth.

  5. jamessweet says

    Those numbers are so extravagantly extreme that there ought to be alarm bells going off in your head right now

    Yep. Pretty audacious, to try and pump the numbers up that high. FWIW, I find it at least plausible that there could be a correlation between abortion and future mental health issues, if for no other reason than simply that society is going to make many women feel unduly guilty about it. And it’s not entirely implausible that there could be more to it than that even. (To be clear: Not asserting this is the case; it’s also completely plausible that there is no correlation whatsoever) But the numbers this paper is touting, they are prima facie absurd.

    They might even have gotten away with it if they hadn’t inflated it so much.

  6. says

    Women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10% of the incidence of mental health problems was shown to be attributable to abortion.

    Bullshit. In my case, being able to obtain an abortion was the best thing for my mental health. I’m certainly not alone on that one, either.

  7. raven says

    If this meta analysis is as flawed as it seems, there was an appalling lapse of medical and scientific ethics at the British Journal of Psychiatry. One could theorize that at least one of the editors is a religious kook and anti-abortion liar for the xian Sky Monster.

    In any event, this paper should be closely examined and if it is fatally flawed, retracted. They probably won’t do it though.

    The last time this happened, it was Andrew Wakefield and his bogus anti-vaxxer measles study. It took years to retract that paper and take away his medical license.

    I’m sure that capable scientists are shredding this paper right now and posting the results on line.

  8. raven says

    BTW, meta analysis is a pretty weak statistical method.

    Basically, you can prove just about anything you want with meta analysis. I won’t go so far as to say a properly done meta analysis is totally useless but you don’t want to put to much trust in one.

  9. Brother Ogvorbis, OM, Demoted says

    Fuck. Now this will be used by legislators and right-wing authoritarian assclam activists for the next fifty or so years (if not longer). Even a retraction will not undo the damage. And, let’s face it, three-quarters of the public will not understand the statistics or analyses, much less where it is flawed.

    Fuck.

  10. jamessweet says

    And re: my comment #7, should have seen raven’s comment at #6 first :) I think I do remember reading it now.

    I lost a very dear friend to a drug overdose, almost exactly a year ago now, and the interplay between her Catholic upbringing (she was an atheist in the last few years) and guilt over multiple abortions played no small part in her decline. This makes me perhaps more open to the hypothesis than I otherwise would be, but if the evidence is against, the evidence is against.

    And to be clear, this sad experience has, if anything, made me even more pro-choice. The first two abortions she had probably would not have occurred if she had been properly educated about birth control as a teen; and given that she did have them, her perceived need to hide it from family and friends pretty much denied her any sort of support structure, creating mental scars that stayed with her for the rest of her life.

    And really, the most important factor in Nicole’s death was her fuckwad doctor who was giving her fistfuls of oxycontin for alleged migraines, a condition for which it’s not even that effective, and a few weeks before he died he actually wrote her a new prescription from out of state without even an office visit because she lied and said her other prescription had been burned in a fire — possibly a violation of federal law. What a fucker….

  11. raven says

    wikipedia:

    The American Psychological Association has concluded that a single abortion is not a threat to women’s mental health, and that women are no more likely to have mental-health problems after a first-trimester abortion than after carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term.

    The US NIH and CDC have concluded the same thing and it is on their websites.

    The female slavery/forced birth crowd is notorious for lying. This BJofP is just another one of their lies.

    The other common ones are known. Abortion raises the risk of breast cancer (false) and decreases future fertility (false).

  12. ibbica says

    “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”, as they say.

    It’s bad enough that we have scientists who don’t understand statistics. But willful abuse of statistics? For shame, Coleman, for shame.

  13. itinerant says

    And oddly enough, here’s a brand new, properly done, British review that just came out, showing no effects of abortion on mental health. Here’s the link, courtesy of the UK National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health: http://www.nccmh.org.uk/publications_SR_abortion_in_MH.html

    Interesting how it replicates the findings of other large-scale reviews. Raven, there are a lot of decent meta-analyses out there, but it does take some work. A critical reviewer is an author’s best friend, although it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

  14. J Dubb says

    Those of you in the comments here who are saying “Psychiatry isn’t a science” and “statistics aren’t part of science”… you sound just like creationists. Because the results of this study don’t match your ideology, you’re denying the science.

    Notice that PZ didn’t do this — he rightly pointed out that the research was shoddy, has flaws, etc. He didn’t generally condemn psychiatry, meta-analysis, etc.

  15. Brother Ogvorbis, OM, Demoted says

    Vice jamessweet at 14:

    I would be interested to see a study focusing on women’t mental health which looks for a link between increased rates of mental health issues post-abortion and religiosity. I wonder (and this is strictly a ‘wonder’, I am not even putting forth a fully thought out hypotheosis!) if women who were raised in conservative religious homes, or have embraced conservative religion later in life, area more or less prone to mental health issues after an abortion.

    [defensive] Please keep in mind I am a public historian. I am not a psychiatrists, psychologist, or anything else regarding mental health (other than a personal user of mental health facilities) so if I have failed to be clear in my wondering, please forgive me and show me where I am wrong. [/defensive]

  16. says

    There was another report which was the subject of a radio 4 debate earlier in the week, which analysed more than forty papers and showed that having an abortion did not increase the cases of mental health damage any more than getting pregnant in the first place.

  17. raven says

    Health Highlights: Dec. 9, 2011 – US News and World Reporthealth.usnews.com › Managing Your HealthcareCached
    You +1’d this publicly. Undo
    23 hours ago – … Outbreak That Caused 30 Deaths Over: CDC Skin Around Hair Follicles Plays …

    FDA No Link Between Abortion, Risk of Mental Health Problems: Study. …

    and we can do some statistical analyses to see whether or not you …

    There have been quite a few studies of abortion and mental health that have found no link at all. The US FDA has looked at it and concluded exactly that.

    Patricia Coleman is simply lying. While her study will be trotted out it won’t make much difference. The female slavers already make that claim over and over. They have never found a lie they couldn’t tell.

  18. Azkyroth says

    Those of you in the comments here who are saying “Psychiatry isn’t a science” and “statistics aren’t part of science”… you sound just like creationists. Because the results of this study don’t match your ideology, you’re denying the science.

    This is extremely disingenuous. The feeling that psychiatry as practiced hasn’t earned the prestige of “science” is not based solely on this study but on an extensive track record of shoddy, unscientific research and conclusions, ranging from “it is generally known that women are less intelligent anyway,” to regarding being comfortable with one’s own homosexuality as a disease, to the attempts to show that black people were “by nature” more prone to criminal activity, to the “refrigerator mother” theory of autism, to pretty much anything Freud had to say, to the overprescription of Ritalin in the 90s, to that little “oopsie” with certain antidepressants increasing the suicide risk of adolescents, to “women like pink because of berries in a forest,” to numerous other examples someone better versed in the literature than me doubtless has closer to hand.

    Same deal with statistics – they’ve seen so much abuse of it they’ve been trained in an essentially Pavlovian fashion, to regard it with suspicion.

    Actually, “disingenuous” probably isn’t a strong enough term…

  19. raven says

    J Dubb lying:

    Those of you in the comments here who are saying “Psychiatry isn’t a science” and “statistics aren’t part of science”…

    Got a liar for jesus already. No one said statistics aren’t part of science or medicine.

    I was the one that said meta analysis is pretty dubious. In my field, medical research, we live and die by statistics. So do our patients and quite literally. It has to be done right or else you end up with a lot of dead people who should still be alive.

    I’ve seen a lot of shoddy meta analysis that didn’t hold up upon further testing. You can and it is frequently used to prove a conclusion by working backwards. Which is exactly what Patricia Coleman did.

  20. raven says

    wikipedia meta analysis:

    Dangers of agenda-driven bias

    The most severe weakness and abuse of meta-analysis often occurs when the person or persons doing the meta-analysis have an economic, social, or political agenda such as the passage or defeat of legislation.

    Those persons with these types of agenda have a high likelihood to abuse meta-analysis due to personal bias. For example, researchers favorable to the author’s agenda are likely to have their studies “cherry picked” while those not favorable will be ignored or labeled as “not credible”. In addition, the favored authors may themselves be biased or paid to produce results that support their overall political, social, or economic goals in ways such as selecting small favorable data sets and not incorporating larger unfavorable data sets.

    If a meta-analysis is conducted by an individual or organization with a bias or predetermined desired outcome, it should be treated as highly suspect or having a high likelihood of being “junk science”. From an integrity perspective, researchers with a bias should avoid meta-analysis and use a less abuse-prone (or independent) form of research.

    A 2011 study done to disclose possible conflicts of interests in underlying research studies used for medical meta-analyses reviewed 29 meta-analyses and found that conflicts of interests in the studies underlying the meta-analyses were rarely disclosed. The 29 meta-analyses included 11 from general medicine journals; 15 from specialty medicine journals, and 3 from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The 29 meta-analyses reviewed an aggregate of 509 randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Of these, 318 RCTs reported funding sources with 219 (69%) industry funded. 132 of the 509 RCTs reported author conflict of interest disclosures, with 91 studies (69%) disclosing industry financial ties with one or more authors. The information was, however, seldom reflected in the meta-analyses. Only two (7%) reported RCT funding sources and none reported RCT author-industry ties. The authors concluded “without acknowledgment of COI due to industry funding or author industry financial ties from RCTs included in meta-analyses, readers’ understanding and appraisal of the evidence from the meta-analysis may be compromised.”[13]

    BTW, its long been known that meta analysis can be abused by people with agendas. It happens a lot.

    The most severe weakness and abuse of meta-analysis often occurs when the person or persons doing the meta-analysis have an economic, social, or political agenda such as the passage or defeat of legislation.

    That is part of what wikipedia has to say on the subject. That is what Patricia Coleman did. QED.

  21. Helmi says

    Wow.

    Literally 30 seconds ago I clicked a BBC article about a study showing that abortion does NOT increase negative mental health effects from an unwanted pregnancy.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16094906

    (And it also showed that unwanted pregnancies in general DO have a negative effect.. so I guess the same people lying about the negative mental health results from abortion should all be pro-sex ed and contraceptives.. right?)

  22. apedant says

    I was beaten to the response I want to make by Derferick #2 but the Today program on Radio 4 had one of the study’s authors explaining it and countering some doctor representing “christians in medicine” listen

  23. says

    Once again religious and single-issue zealots give themselves permission to lie.

    When everyone else is held to standards that do not permit lying, nor even obscuring the truth, the zealots have an unfair advantage.

    Where did Patricia Coleman get her education? Or more likely, where did she fail to get a good education?

    And to get the lies published in a hitherto respectable journal …. aiyiyiyiyi.

    Was money involved? Did someone from the anti-abortion ranks donate to the journal and/or pay Coleman to produce this swill?

  24. raven says

    Was money involved? Did someone from the anti-abortion ranks donate to the journal and/or pay Coleman to produce this swill?

    It probably wasn’t money.

    Most likely one of the editors of the BJofP is a xian religious kook. And doesn’t care if the study is a pack of lies.

  25. says

    This is not just shoddy research. The paper demonstrates a casual disregard both for facts and methods.

    My bet is that religious anti-abortion groups will answer critics of the paper, critics like PZ and Jerry Coyne, by noting that there are some “reservations,” and “quibbles,” and “nitpicking.” Thus, the total shredding of the results, and the rejection of the paper as having any scientific merit, will be downplayed.

    I’m back to the money issue. Patricia Coleman should not be paid for work like this … unless someone wants to hire her as Propagandist in Chief.

  26. larrylyons says

    As someone who has done several meta-analyses on treatment efficacy in psychotherapy and in other areas, I am appalled that this study actually made it through even the first cut. Methodologically it sucks, frankly the study sucks canal water it is so bad.

    First off the literature selection was biased and definitely not comprehensive. Including one or two of one’s own studies I can see, but over half of a very small sample size leads me to think that the author was definitely biasing the sample. Given that just entering “Mental Health and Abortion” into the search at Scholar.Google.com yields over 168,000 entries on the topic, coming up with only 22 studies, half of them hers, is very suspicious. Moreover aside from some vague generalities the author did not discuss why certain studies were included and why others were excluded.

    The use of averaging to extract a single effect size on measures that are only partially related introduces a massive amount of bias. Rather the author should have used separate analyses based on the measurement, ie., aggregate all studies that used anxiety measure, then do a separate analysis for all studies that used depression etc.

    Then there’s the issue counting individual studies multiple times in the analysis, there is no justification for that. It is essentially nothing other than biasing your data to support your point.

    I could go on but those are just my first impressions. Once I’ve gone over Coleman’s paper in more detail I shall be writing a far more detailed, and technical critique of this mess. What I can say from my first impression is that if one of my students submitted such a poor quality meta-analysis, it would have been returned with a failing grade.

    If you really want the most likely idea on the relationship between abortion and mental health look at the American Psychological Association’s Task Force Report on Mental health and Abortion:
    http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/abortion/mental-health.pdf

  27. anteprepro says

    Those of you in the comments here who are saying “Psychiatry isn’t a science”

    Please note that the (one) comment you are referring was most likely tongue-in-cheek, as “psychiatry” technically isn’t a scientific field: It is a medical field. Obviously, medicine is informed by science, but the science involved wouldn’t itself be considered “psychiatric” (it would probably be neurobiological, pharmacological, or psychological). Chigau can feel free to correct me if this wasn’t what xe was going for.

  28. says

    Also published in the British Journal of Psychiatry:

    Why Religion is Good for Your Health (by M King, 2011) — He supports religious psychiatrists who want to include elements of their faith in their work with patients who share their beliefs. It strikes me that the mormon (LDS) social services sector would love that conclusion.

    Religious Experience Within Mental Illness (by D Crossley, 1995)

    Religious Factors and Hippocampal Atrophy in Late Life (by AD Owen, 2011)

    Towards Wholeness: transcending the barriers between religion and psychiatry (by P Carter, 2008)

    And here’s a connection between the British Journal of Psychiatry and Templeton Press:
    http://www.templetonpress.org/content/british-journal-psychiatry
    See also the book “Neuroscience, Psychology, and Religion” on Amazon. One wonders what Sam Harris thinks of that book.

  29. ArtK says

    @ sqlrob

    Sounds like a lot of people involved with publishing Psychiatry articles in Britain need their head examined.

    Here’s something just as bad, if not worse. Science and rationality, whazzat?

    http://boingboing.net/2011/12/07/esp-proponents-claim-that-esp.html

    One wonders if it’s the same editor. There is a certain amount of crank-magentism. Someone should submit an article about homeopathy being used to treat mental illness.

    @ Brother O

    I would be interested to see a study focusing on women’t mental health which looks for a link between increased rates of mental health issues post-abortion and religiosity. I wonder (and this is strictly a ‘wonder’, I am not even putting forth a fully thought out hypotheosis!) if women who were raised in conservative religious homes, or have embraced conservative religion later in life, area more or less prone to mental health issues after an abortion.

    You don’t need to apologize for the thought — it’s a legitimate question that can (and should) be asked. It’s certainly something that should have been accounted for in the original studies and the meta-analysis. An assessment of how strongly the subjects felt that abortion was wrong is very important. Both for the ones that had abortions as well as the “controls” who didn’t.

  30. raven says

    NYtimes.com:

    Nancy Russo, a psychology professor at Arizona State University and a veteran abortion researcher, spends much of her professional time refuting Reardon and Coleman’s results by retracing their steps through the vast data sets.

    Russo examined the analysis in the 2002 and 2005 articles and turned up methodological flaws in both. When she corrected for the errors, the higher rates of mental illness among women who had abortions disappeared.

    Russo published her findings on depression in The British Medical Journal last year; her article on anxiety disorders is under review. “Science eventually corrects itself, but it takes a while,” she says.

    “And you can feel people’s eyes glaze over when you talk about coding errors and omitted data sets.”

    Priscilla Coleman, for her part, says that research that concludes that abortion has negative effects is more scrutinized because it’s “so politically incorrect.” When researchers attack his findings, Reardon writes to the journals’ letters pages. “Even if pro-abortionists got five paragraphs explaining that abortion is safe and we got only one line saying it’s dangerous, the seed of doubt is planted,” he wrote in his book.

    According to the NYTimes, Priscilla Coleman has been torturing the statistics to support her religious views for a long time.

    About those “coding errors” and omitted data sets”. We have a word for using those particular techniques in papers. It’s called…FRAUD.

    I’m amazed she hasn’t lost her job at Bowling Green over her deliberate lying in papers.

  31. larrylyons says

    An interesting point raven, one of my initial impressions is that she did not identify the list of studies she used in her meta-analysis. While I have moved onto other things several years ago, from what I understand its still the practice to make available the list of studies used in the analysis. Also why odds ratios. To me it would make more sense to use Cohen’s d for this sort of data.

  32. raven says

    wikipedia PJC:

    Some other researchers have been unable to reproduce Coleman’s results on abortion and mental health despite using the same dataset,[4] and have described her findings as “logically inconsistent” and potentially “substantially inflated” by faulty methodology.[5]

    The American Psychological Association (APA) and other major medical bodies have concluded that the evidence does not support a link between abortion and mental health problems,[6] and APA panelists charged with reviewing the evidence were similarly critical of the methodology of Coleman’s studies.[3]

    and

    Nancy Russo, a psychology professor and abortion researcher, examined two of Coleman and Reardon’s articles, and found that when the methodological flaws in the studies were corrected, the supposed correlation between abortion and poor mental health disappeared.[2]

    If you google Priscilla Coleman, it becomes obvious that she is simply a liar for jesus publishing what are deliberately faulty papers wherever she can.

  33. Brother Ogvorbis, OM, Demoted says

    You don’t need to apologize for the thought — it’s a legitimate question

    As I was writing it, I kept having second thoughts. Partly because I am male and will never have an abortion. Partly because (in my mind) it sounded like (because I have problems phrasing questions in things outside my areas of expertise or experience) I might be imparting increased religiosity to females which is not what I intended.

    Does anyone know if a study like this has been done?

  34. kemist says

    Even if her stat methods were ok, her control group is awfully badly chosen.

    You can’t compare the outcome of abortion with the totality of term pregnancies or with women who’ve never been pregnant – it makes no freaking sense. Women don’t decide to go for abortion on a whim during a wanted pregnancy. The actual premise for choosing abortion is :

    a) It’s an unwanted pregnancy

    b) Something is badly wrong with the feotus

    So it should only be compared with the other options possible for these problems, that is

    – adoption (which we know is much more dangerous for women’s mental health than abortion)

    – keeping an unwanted child

    – giving birth and caring for a severely handicapped child, which also has an extremely bad record where mental health is concerned.

    So it’s not only fraud, it’s useless fraud since contextually it makes no sense.

  35. anteprepro says

    Isn’t the peer-review process supposed to correct for methodological problems like this?

    Yes. Which is why this article getting published is an example of the peer-review process failing to do its job.

  36. anubisprime says

    Somebody that desperately desires confirmation bias that bad that she manipulates her own statistics and by dishonest subterfuge gives the impression she so obviously wants… needs a psychiatrist…stat!

  37. says

    I don’t think the problem is with statistics [!] or meta-analysis (I’ll hold my tongue about psychiatry :)). Meta-analyses can be conducted properly, and tools exist to evaluate them (there’s a section about this in Testing Treatments. Moreover, many of the problems with the study listed by Jim Coyne are so fundamental that they should be apparent to anyone with sense. This appears to be a case of a journal forfeiting its duty to assess a submission fully and critically, and it looks fishy.

    I have one problem with something said at the Coyne link. He says:

    Reviewers for BJP evaluating the Coleman meta-analysis for publication should have been expected to evaluate her manuscript with respect to these noncontroversial criteria. They could readily have done so with the AMSTAR, and readers can again puzzle over the question of just how did this paper make it through peer review and got published in such a prestigious journal.

    I agree with this. But he continues:

    But another question to you, the reader: Can the AMSTAR standards be readily applied by motivated readers? Consumers of meta-analyses cannot be expected to be experts, but if conclusions of a meta-analysis have importance for them, can they at least be equipped to decide for themselves whether a meta-analysis is biased and seriously flawed?

    Well,… Yes, people should be better equipped to evaluate meta-analyses and more aware of basic problems and manipulations, and publication doesn’t mean of course that people should assume the methods and findings of a study are 100% correct, but – and this is especially true in a controversial area like this in which terrible research can gain political traction and many for whom it has importance aren’t skilled in the field or in a position to contest it – biased and seriously flawed research should never be presented to readers by decent journals in the first place.

    I hope this is retracted and used in the future in teaching physicians about what can be done wrong or dishonestly in meta-analyses.

  38. Rich Woods says

    @Lynna #32:

    Towards Wholeness: transcending the barriers between religion and psychiatry (by P Carter, 2008)

    The BJP does seem to go in for some very dodgy stuff.

    Anything which has ‘towards’ and ‘transcending’ in the title sounds quite Sokal to me.

  39. markjn says

    My ex had an abortion a few years before we got together and she used to randomly start crying because of it and could never really articulate the problem. I don’t pretend to understand it and never judged her for it either way but it seems to me that at the very least it was an extremely emotionally charged issue for her.

  40. twist says

    Using statistics (flawed or otherwise) of mental health problems following an abortion to oppose abortion is cowardly. It’s like they know they can’t win with the “But it’s a baybeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!111″ arguments, so they try to convince women that other bad things will happen to them if they choose to abort, like mental health problems, infertility, cancer etc.

    Now as far as I know (I may be wrong), there’s no proven link between abortion and either infertility or cancer (or mental health problems, and this won’t convince me!), but I’ve heard them used as anti-choice arguments on a few occasions. Because you know, we laydeez with our little laydeebrains just don’t know what’s best for us, and they only want to protect us. That’s why we’re also not allowed to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, ride motorcycles or do anything else which may involve an element of risk.

    As someone who did have mental health problems after an abortion, stuff like this makes me furious. So it’s my fault I got depressed and I wouldn’t have if only I’d kept my unwanted pregnancy with my abusive partner at the age of seventeen? Based on my own experience and some anecdotes from friends, I’d suggest that mental health issues after an abortion have a great deal more to do with the circumstances the person was in at the time of the unwanted pregnancy, and how much shit the person had to go through in order to get an abortion.

    Unless she’s going to use her ‘stats’ as an argument for better supportive aftercare and easier access to abortion (and I doubt that’s her point), Patricia Coleman and her agenda can fuck right off.

  41. spectator says

    Post-partum depression is an established medical diagnosis. The dramatic hormonal changes commence shortly after conception and are well underway well before the woman suspects something is physically out-of-the-ordinary . Whether the fetus is surgically removed or spontaneously expelled, a sudden chemical imbalance abruptly occurs. Bonding with the newborn triggers a blissful rush of oxytocin. An overwhelming instinct takes over your brain and all conscious attention is focused on the newborn. Very effective distraction from the unfamiliar mood trying to gain hold over the psyche.
    After an abortion, the woman faces this chemical imbalance without the powerfully evolved coping mechanisms that delivering offspring instantly provides.
    The biochemical state is no different from that of a miscarriage. Except that there is emotional support for the woman grieving a lost pregnancy. As superficial as the cliches may seem, society condones her expressions of sadness. No one would dream of shaming her. In many instances, she has the valuable support of a partner and does not have to deal with the situation completely alone.
    The woman who aborted experiences the same dramatic chemical imbalance alone with zero support. There is no chemical or emotional coping mechanism available. Usually the male has long disappeared since his sexual urge was temporarily satisfied. She certainly can’t look to the pro-choice crowd for help. All their effort is channeled toward ensuring as many as pregnancies are terminated as possible. There is no “down side.” Shame is brutally compounded. The knee-jerk response is to conclude that only women who are already pathologically disturbed or emotionally damaged experience an abortion negatively. The ultimate expression of patriarchy permeates this ideology, aka. telling women to feel, is the essence of this thread. A woman headed this study. Just like the bunny cartoon, her words are visually discredited with the trademark font. Where is the obligatory link to the actual source? Pharyngulites won’t bother to check it. So why bother, I guess. There is an important narrative to establish. Framing the desired discussion is the goal.
    So what are the available options for coping with the post-partum chemical imbalance and any psychological manifestations if they can’t exist? When one feels badly about feeling badly, the unhealthy progression can hardly be surprising. Say what you will about religious guilt. But if you’re forbidden to experience guilt, it’s impossible to identify why, much less internally resolve it, and move forward. Of course, atheists know those women are so silly, right?
    “For heaven’s sake, grow up! Or at least grow a thicker skin…” Your fellow feminists have to deal with euthanizing their beloved aging pets. What’s all the fuss over a clump of human tissue? Suck it up! Otherwise we’ll be forced to cherry-pick the statistics you’re messing up.

    Unless you’re a woman who has a.)had an elective abortion b.)delivered a child (including c-sections) c.)suffered a miscarriage, you don’t get the privilege of dictating to those who have how to feel.
    No thank you to the porcupines! Feel free to call me an annoying c*nt, if you must. Since I’m an oppressed minority who’s experienced a. and b., I believe I get one strike. I disemvoweled FWIW, FTW.

  42. twist says

    She certainly can’t look to the pro-choice crowd for help. All their effort is channeled toward ensuring as many as pregnancies are terminated as possible.

    Pro-choice. The clue is in the name.

  43. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    Unless you’re a woman who has a.)had an elective abortion b.)delivered a child (including c-sections) c.)suffered a miscarriage, you don’t get the privilege of dictating to those who have how to feel.

    I’m not going to touch all the generalizations you’ve made in that little rant of yours. For someone who doesn’t want others to dictate how someone should feel, you are taking some liberties with that yourself.

  44. anteprepro says

    All their effort is channeled toward ensuring as many as pregnancies are terminated as possible.

    That’s a tell if I’ve ever seen one. Obvious uninformed pro-birther is obvious.

  45. says

    spectator,
    Seriously you are going to complain that this post does not contain a direct link? It took me all of 5 seconds to get a citation from the very first link in this article. It is not as though the post is hiding what paper it is discussing, or making obscure references to some paper but not giving enough detail to let you find it.

    As for the rest, you seem to have an inability to read what is presented without inserting your own expectation of what the writer actually thinks. No one has expressed the sentiments you have attributed to them and I doubt many would. It is a figment of your imagination.

    I also note that you seem to ignore the actual discussion of this paper, at most giving some weak arguments about why you expect its conclusions to be correct but not even attempting to address the fairly obvious flaws or why other, better studies have found the opposite.

  46. johnfreethinker says

    UBE
    12/8/11

    1.0 A few things have not changed since I left Christianity. One of them is the argument for humanity of what I will call the Unborn Biological Entity (UBE). Let me state at the first that this has nothing to do with permitting or prohibiting the abortion of human pregnancies- only what is being aborted.

    1.1 The question before us is simple: is the UBE, the occupant of a pregnant woman’s uterus, a human being or not? “Human embryos/ fetuses are human beings” would seem to be a ridiculously tautological argument, but evidently I am living in a ridiculous world.

    1.2 Consider that a woman can change the social and legal definition of the UBE by calling it either “an unwanted pregnancy” or “my baby”. If a woman chooses to call it “pregnancy”, she can destroy it if she wishes; but if she calls it “baby”, suddenly it becomes a precious person.

    1.3 Also, in either case the man involved (you know, that good old fashioned sperm donor) has nothing to say. He cannot make a woman keep their (see below) UBE; neither can he make the woman abort it. He cannot make her do anything, but he does have to make child support payments. This brings up the lack of male reproductive rights, but I digress.

    1.4 The basic argument is simple:

    1. The UBE is a living organism. Its cells metabolize and divide; it exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide; it develops from simpler to more complex organization. If allowed to complete its prenatal growth, it will begin to breathe air, eat food, etc, and may eventually reproduce itself.

    2. The UBE is not part of the woman’s body. The clamor about “a woman having the right to her own body” is begging the question in the extreme. It assumes a falsehood: namely that the UBE is an organ of the woman in whose uterus it lives. In fact, the UBE has the DNA of its male parent as well. Therefore it is not an organ of woman’s body, but an unique organism in its own right.

    3. The UBE has a scientific name. All organisms have scientific names, according to the Linnean system of classification. For example, the scientific name of the Maine lobster is Homarus americanus. The common octopus is Octopus vulgaris. The mimic octopus is Thaumatoctopus mimicus. The blue-ringed octopus is Hapalochlaena lunulata. The giant octopus is…the redwood sequoia tree is Sequoia sempervirens.

    4. The UBE is Homo sapiens. The UBE has a genome (DNA structural pattern) similar to every other member of Homo sapiens. It does not have the genome of a Maine lobster or blue-ringed octopus.

    5. The UBE is a human being. The scientific name of the human is Homo sapiens. Therefore the UBE belongs to this species; it is in fact a living and unique human being.

    1.5 This necessarily implies that intentionally destroying the UBE is homicide. As I stated at the beginning, this essay does not address the morality or legality of abortion. However, the inevitable conclusion is that abortion must be considered some form of homicide.

  47. raven says

    spactator = liar, female slaver, forced birther

    All you really need to know. He didn’t back up any of his gibberish because it is all lies.

  48. raven says

    However, the inevitable conclusion is that abortion must be considered some form of homicide.

    Another liar.

    A few things have not changed since I left Christianity.

    Another lie. I don’t believe you are an exXian.

    I suppose we will have more lies from the forced birthers. They rarely have anyone take them seriously or pay attention any more.

  49. raven says

    5. The UBE is a human being. The scientific name of the human is Homo sapiens. Therefore the UBE belongs to this species; it is in fact a living and unique human being.

    It’s not. Your pathetic sophistry is just a bunch of lies and fallacies strung together.

    Legally, fetuses aren’t human beings and have never been considered human beings. This is even the case in your magic book the bible.

  50. anteprepro says

    Spectator: My previous extra comment was eaten. Suffice it to say, in case I accidentally repeat myself:
    -Postpartum depression involves a drop of sex hormones after birth, that is at roughly 10 times the normal amount after 9 months of pregnancy.
    -Abortion very often occurs in the first trimester, where sex hormones are only roughly 2 times the normal amount.
    -Sadness about miscarriage most likely is not due to the same reasons as postpartum, since miscarriages are not planned (unlike abortion).

    Your mechanism for explaining why one would expect depression after abortion fails. Try again.

  51. twist says

    1.0 A few things have not changed since I left Christianity.

    Like you haven’t come round to women = people yet?

    My body and my life are far more important that any potential person growing inside me, and fuck anyone who says otherwise.

    When people are of the opinion that as soon as a woman becomes pregnant she should give up all rights to her body and become a walking incubator, I always wonder how they would feel about compulsory organ donation.

    Assuming here that you do have two kidneys, haven’t you considered that there must be someone out there (an actual human person)who needs one of them for whom you are a match? You can live with one kidney, don’t be so selfish you murderer! Or do you consider it your basic human right to refuse to consent to live donation of your organs?

  52. Brother Ogvorbis, OM, Demoted says

    The woman who aborted experiences the same dramatic chemical imbalance alone with zero support.

    Citation, please.

    Usually the male has long disappeared since his sexual urge was temporarily satisfied.

    Citation, please.

    All their effort is channeled toward ensuring as many as pregnancies are terminated as possible.

    Considering the effort put into preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place (also opposed by the antichoice crowd), this one really needs a citation.

    Feel free to call me an annoying c*nt, if you must.

    We really do try to avoid gendered insults. Asshole, being universal, is still quite acceptable.

    The question before us is simple: is the UBE, the occupant of a pregnant woman’s uterus, a human being or not?

    The occupant of a pregnant women’s uterus is called a foetus. And, though it is a potential human (as are unfertilized eggs as well as sperm), it is not human. This really is only a question if one is trying to be dishonest.

    If a woman chooses to call it “pregnancy”, she can destroy it if she wishes; but if she calls it “baby”, suddenly it becomes a precious person.

    Or, if one calls it a foetus, one is honest.

    Also, in either case the man involved (you know, that good old fashioned sperm donor) has nothing to say.

    Ah. The old “What about the Menz” argument. That one has never been used before.

    The UBE is a living organism.

    So is the fungal skin tag growing in my armpit.

    The UBE is not part of the woman’s body.

    Nor are any of the other parasites within her body. And they cannot survive outside her body, either.

    The UBE has a scientific name.

    So is Assholicus fundogelici, but that doesn’t make it real.

    The UBE has a genome (DNA structural pattern) similar to every other member of Homo sapiens.

    So does the blood that I lost this morning after shaving.

    This necessarily implies that intentionally destroying the UBE is homicide.

    No. It really doesn’t. Creating a definition out of whole cloth in order to force the answer you have already decided upon is dishonest.

  53. says

    The UBE is not part of the woman’s body.

    Oh, yes it is, dipshit. Let me know when a zygote or embryo can survive outside its host.

    The UBE is a human being.

    No it isn’t. A potential human being, yes.

  54. anteprepro says

    The UBE is not part of the woman’s body. The clamor about “a woman having the right to her own body” is begging the question in the extreme. It assumes a falsehood: namely that the UBE is an organ of the woman in whose uterus it lives

    Then I propose that you personally ensure, along with all other pro-birthers, that doctors are financially equipped to remove these independent organisms from women who don’t want to carry them around for nine months while also ensuring that the pre-born infants don’t die in the process. The fact that “UBE”‘s are alive and have human DNA might give them the right to live if you squint hard enough, but it doesn’t give them the right to reside in someone else’s body, no matter how hard you spin it. How does the fact that they will die if removed put a mandate on the women to go through the risks involved with continued pregnancy and eventual birth?

    But if you reject this, I just can’t wait to see how far we go down anti-choice road. I wonder if we will get a Fetal Crimes Unit, attempting to barge their way into women’s lives to see who they can hold accountable for a UBE’s miscarriage or for birth defects. Send her off to jail for manslaughter if she was recklessly walking down stairs and feel. Send her off for battery and/or criminal negligence if she drank too much before she knew she was pregnant. Send her off for neglect or abuse if she doesn’t eat enough. CSI: Someone Else’s Womb will be smash hit, I’m sure.

  55. madscientist says

    Nasty scientists – why can’t they be nice and let Coleman save her soul by lying for Jesus?

  56. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    John “fuzzythinker”,
    ‘Kay, Punkin, let me see if I’ve got this straight. You are basing your entire argument that a fetus is a human on the work of Linnaeus–a 18th century pre-Darwinian naturalist? Dude, might I recommend the enlightenment to you?

    May I also point out that the argument you laid out could just as easily be applied to say that menstruation or male masturbation are murder–mass murder in the latter case? Oh the spermanity!

    I’m sorry, Dude, but that is just sad.

  57. idlemind says

    An embryo can potentially become a human being, but it is not a human being, any more than a human being, as a potential corpse, should be treated like a corpse.

  58. supersysscvi says

    Wow. I’m amazed that a professor at my university would make such an erroneous analysis. This makes me want to take a statistics class so I don’t make the same mistakes.

    What’s nice about this blog post is that all the links point out why this paper is incorrect. I haven’t read the analysis in question nor the guide that a website gave for a ‘checklist’, but seeing that the answers for the question “why?” are so close at hand (literally a mouse click away) is relieving.

    This also makes me wonder if I could just learn statistics from the internet.

  59. says

    Back on topic:

    Getting pregnant when you didn’t want to be pregnant is going to be bad for your mental health when compared to [not getting pregnant when you don’t want to be pregnant] and [getting pregnant when you want to be pregnant], no matter whether you decide to continue with the pregnancy or not.

    It’s a situation in which whatever choice you make, life is going to be stressful. When discussing abortion with a woman who doesn’t know what to do, I always gently point out that if a pregnancy is not a wanted event, the decision you make doesn’t come with rainbows and kittens because there is no perfect answer.

    Did the studies use matched controls for socioeconomic class, lifestyle etc? Because women with ‘chaotic’ lifestyles are more likely to end up with an unwanted pregnancy due to rape, lack of affordability of contraception, lack of education, drug and alcohol use. This is also a group more likely to have mental health problems.

    Religiosity is also an issue, as mentioned above; apart from a lack of support in these communities, women might feel obliged to say they are distressed by having had an abortion because they perceive it as the correct response.

    There was an interesting segment on Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe recently where the effect of ‘spoof’ studies (case in point: the Christmas BMJ) skewing the medical literature was discussed. Unfortunately once published, these papers are really hard to kill. Perhaps what’s needed is a scoring system much like the categorising of evidence used in medical protocols and guidelines, so that you can simply say ‘that’s class D evidence’ when a paper is dragged out to validate a point.

  60. kemist says

    Bonding with the newborn triggers a blissful rush of oxytocin. An overwhelming instinct takes over your brain and all conscious attention is focused on the newborn. Very effective distraction from the unfamiliar mood trying to gain hold over the psyche.

    Hum, no.

    I’ve known a few women with mental issues aggravated by pregnancy, and having a newborn to take home definitely didn’t help them out of depression. On the contrary.

    One of them was in fact totally inapt to take care of an infant – her mother in law came in one day and found the few-days-old baby stark naked in his crib, bawling his lungs out since who knows how many hours. The MIL never left the baby alone with
    his mother for quite a while after that.

    Another thing is that you don’t get “distracted” out of depression. It doesn’t work like that. Major depression isn’t like feeling the occasional depressed feeling we all get. People with depression typically can’t feel pleasure or motivation to do anything at all, including eating and personnal hygiene, let alone taking care of an infant.

  61. raven says

    Study: No higher mental health risk after abortion
    Updated 1/26/2011 6:04 PM

    The Associated Press
    Having an abortion does not increase the risk of mental health problems, but having a baby does, one of the largest studies to compare the aftermath of both decisions suggests.

    The Danish study showed that having a baby increases the risk of mental health problems compared to having an abortion. This is of course, exactly the opposite of what that outrageous liar, spectator claimed.

    This makes sense. A baby is a tremendous responsiblity and a lot of work and it never stops. We also don’t do a great job of teaching young women what they need to know. In the old days, there were always lots of siblings to practice on and lots of old veterans to do some teaching. Those days have been gone for a long time.

    If abortion wasn’t legal, the numbers would be even higher. Women who choose abortion are frequently young and poor and don’t think (correctly) they are capable of taking care of a newborn at that point in their life.

    If you really want to see the statistics for post-birth mental problems go up, outlaw abortion. Nothing like being forced to give birth to a baby no matter what to screw up your life and your future.

    PS Have we got to the “a baby is a punishment device” stage yet. The forced birthers are really inhuman about a lot of things besides not telling the truth.

  62. bcskeptic says

    Not surprising really. These agenda-driven people can’t get the result they want honestly, and so have to lie about it and hope that if the lie is said often enough people believe it. And, the sad thing is, it works.

  63. Holms says

    Meta-study: An attempt to make a strong chain out of weak links.

    I also like the RR value of 1.81 causing a ‘nearly 10%’ increased risk of mental illness. Why, that’s *almost* out of the realms of chance variation!

  64. ArtK says

    @ spectator

    She certainly can’t look to the pro-choice crowd for help. All their effort is channeled toward ensuring as many as pregnancies are terminated as possible.

    You started out ok, but managed to torpedo yourself with that little gem. That one bit of BS managed to negate anything valid you might have had to say.

    Enjoy wrestling that strawman!

  65. raven says

    and hope that if the lie is said often enough people believe it. And, the sad thing is, it works.

    Not really. The female slavery/forced birth crowd will believe their lies. And tell them. But they are already christofascists so it doesn’t matter.

    Normal people just find out quickly that they are liars and automatically don’t believe anything they say. It’s the boy who cried wolf once too often problem.

    The usual: If they had valid points, they wouldn’t have to lie all the time.

    This is what drove me out of xianity. If their religion was true, they wouldn’t have to lie all the time. That and the monsters that the fundies create lots of.

  66. alysonmiers says

    I’m especially fond of the scare quotes on “unplanned” pregnancy. If you take forced-birth logic to its conclusions, there are no unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. There are also no planned or wanted pregnancies. Women get pregnant, and they give birth. Whether they decided to have children is irrelevant.

  67. says

    Women get pregnant, and they give birth. Whether they decided to have children is irrelevant.

    of course. it’s the same logic that says married women can’t be raped, and the same logic that exempts women from rights to refuse hurting oneself to help another: it’s the logic that treats women as property, not as people with rights to bodily autonomy; consent doesn’t exist in that worldview

  68. se habla espol says

    The actual premise for choosing abortion is :

    a) It’s an unwanted pregnancy

    b) Something is badly wrong with the feotus

    There are many other premises for ‘choosing abortion’. In particular, there was the situation my (now) wife found herself in long before we met: Her first three pregnancies had so damaged her reproductive system that a fourth child would have killed them both. Her birth control failed.
    Her ‘actual premises’ were then
    a) die in or before childbirth, leaving three orphans (possibly with an abusive father, depending on divorce timing), or
    b) abort, abandon her desire to have five kids, and live to raise her existing three.
    What would you choose? Why?

  69. Azkyroth says

    I would say that a pregnancy that would kill the mother would be “unwanted.” Though it doesn’t quite fit the usual connotations of the term, so you have a point.

  70. az says

    hi, I saw johnfreethinker’s post and wanted to post something I posted on rdnet that is a response to the biological critique of abortion, which is one of the weakest anti-abortion arguments. Mind you homicide is the killing of persons, which is critical.

    I find that in the abortion debate there are some very serious questions that people do not even attempt to address, for one reason or another. Is an embryo a member of the species Homo sapiens? This is a rather simple biological question with a simple answer. A more relevant question would be if an organism is a member of a species, say Homo sapiens, is it a person simply because of it’s biology? It is not entirely clear that a being is person simply because they belong to a certain species. The biologic version of the antiabortion argument explicitly assumes that a human is a person, namely, that “all innocent(obviously if it was guilty of something then you could easily make an argument in favor of abortion, however, being charitable most bioethicists assume innocence) organisms belonging to the biologically defined species, in this case Homo sapiens, without exception have a serious ‘right to life.'” This version of the antiabortion argument is not taken seriously because of several fatal objections. Firstly, there are clear counterexamples to it. Second, the argument does not express a basic moral principle and needs to be extended in order to uncover the underlying basic moral principle. However, extending the argument requires bringing in some other version of the antiabortion argument(religious arguments from the soul, appeal to capacities, or appeal to potentialities attributed to Don Marquis). Since, the biological version reduces to some other version then if those other versions fail then so too does the biological version. The last objection follows directly from the second objection; namely, since the original moral principle is not basic enough then how does one derive the original moral principle in the first place? If you try to derive the original moral principle you will find that the derivation is either false, the derivation itself is unsound, or that the derivation does not in fact support the original argument that all innocent organisms that are biologically Homo sapiens, without exception, have a serious right to life.

    Keeping in mind what the original argument was then you have several counterexamples that demonstrate that it’s not even prima facie wrong to let certain organisms belonging to species Homo sapiens die or indeed kill. Some examples are anencephalic infants(infants with little to no neural tissue), organisms that have a functioning brain stem(+/- a functioning spinal cord) but non-functioning cerebrum, and organisms that have cerebral/brainstem/cord death. A common practice among bioethicists(say Tooley, Marquis, Mary Warren, Judith Thomson) is to sketch out a range of cases of organisms with varying degrees of personal status(ie different psychological and physical capacities). What you find is a range of individuals from a physically and psychologically normal individual on one end to an individual with a non functioning cerebrum/brainstem kept alive with life support on the other extreme. Between these 2 extremes, most(note not all) rational people draw a line between an individual who is psychologically normal(ie has a mental life) and whose brainstem is non-functional but has an “artificial brainstem”(to minimize confusion think of this as a respirator) keeping them alive, and an individual whose cerebrum is non-functioning but is alive with a functioning brainstem meaning they are permanently comatose and have no mental life. What this exercise teases out is an intuition that what makes it morally wrong to kill or let someone die has something to do with an organism’s mental life.

    On to the second objection, what is the basic moral principle espoused in the biological version. Well, it’s pretty obvious: namely that killing an innocent organism that is a member of species Homo sapiens is without exception prima facie wrong(there are many ways to formulate the principle but this is a standard way). Now, immediately one can see that this principle is certainly not a basic moral principle, namely it deals strictly with Homo sapiens. Maybe there’s a more general and hence basic moral principle involved. An easy way to derive it would be to apply the original principle in different situations and then find a more general principle that explains each situation. For example, let’s consider a rose flower and derive a similar moral principle, namely, “the killing of innocent rose flowers is without exception prima facie wrong.” Next, let’s consider Han Solo from star wars and derive another moral principle, namely, “the killing of an innocent member of Han Solo’s species is without exception prima facie wrong.” Well, I think reasonable people would agree that there is something that distinguishes a rose flower from Han Solo and a human. What feature could that be? Surely, whatever answer you give must invovle at least in some measure a reference to the type of mental life that humans and Han’s species apparently share. Now, we see that the consideration of other possible species suggests that we must generalize even more, that is, generalize so that our basic moral principle is free of reference to any particular species. In practice, you end up with a principle akin to “all innocent organisms that have a capacity for a kind of mental life have a right to life” or “all innocent organisms that have a capacity for a kind of mental life or the potential for a capacity, have a right to life”(the principles concerning potentials is the more difficult case and attributed to Don Marquis). Thus, the original moral principle in the biological argument in effect reduces to a moral basic more principle that you find in a capacities or potentialities version of the antiabortion argument.

    The final objection follows from the second and takes a considerable amount of time. Since, it has been established that the original moral principle was not a basic moral principle then a question arises how one can even satisfactorily derive it in the first place. First, there is the religious derivation using the notion of a soul. The argument is along the lines of: all organisms that have souls that have the capacity for higher mental functions have a right to life; all humans have souls that have the capacity for higher mental functions; thus all organisms that are humans have a right to life. It’s a valid argument but wholly unsound. There is no good reason for thinking that adult human beings have a soul that contains the capacity for higher mental functions. To be explicit, there is no plausible evidence for a soul being present in adult human let alone an embryo or fetus. In fact, neurological inquiry(stroke research etc) produces enormous evidence supporting the conclusion that higher mental abilities, say the ability to think, depend upon the presence of a complex and specific arrangement of neurological structures. Thus, the conclusion that higher mental abilities are based upon capacities found in the brain is highly probable as compared to the notion that they reside in a soul that should, if one thinks about it, not be impaired by any damage to the brain. Secondly, there is the capacities derivation which is also valid but unsound. The argument is something like: all organisms that have the capacity for higher mental functions have a right to life; all humans have this capacity for higher functioning; thus all organisms that are humans have a right to life. Here too, we have strong evidence from stroke research/accidents and embryology that higher mental abilities are dependent on a complex arrangement of neural structures from the former and from the latter that neural structures like a brain occur much later in development. The presence of neural crest cells or neuroectoderm or a primitive neural tube is not the same thing as a brain that can “think” or have higher mental abilities. So, the capacities version is unsound for the simple reason that organisms do not have relevant mental capacities at all times. The potentialities derivation takes the most time to parse fully, but given the length of the post, I”ll just point out a few quick flaws. The derivation is valid(simply replace capacities with potential for capacities) but also unsound. If we recall the counterexamples from the first objection then if anencephalics or any organism that has a non-functioning cerebrum/brainstem then they by definition do not have the potential for the capacity of higher mental functions. Another flaw is that potentiality does not, in and of itself, entail “rights to life” but instead entails the value of an entity. However, the value of a embryo is not the same as the value attributed to an adult.

    Finally let me just add that this argument against the biological critique is not novel. It’s fairly well known, and would behoove anyone who is against abortion and who espouses a biological approach to personhood to at least attempt to respond to. Indeed, bioethicists like Don Marquis usually concede the futility of the biological approach and prefer the potentialities approach. However, if you’re interested you can find that there are quite devastating flaws in that approach too.

  71. Azkyroth says

    My ex had an abortion a few years before we got together and she used to randomly start crying because of it and could never really articulate the problem. I don’t pretend to understand it and never judged her for it either way but it seems to me that at the very least it was an extremely emotionally charged issue for her.

    A non-random sample of one can be used to “prove” anything. And is therefore worthless.

  72. Azkyroth says

    blah blah blah blah blah

    -paraphrased from johnnotthinker

    Even assuming that all the unstated assumptions in your argument hold (which they don’t), it does not matter whether a fetus is a human being. It has no right to occupy and use the body of another person without that person’s consent.

    If you cannot force someone to donate a kidney, you cannot force someone to donate a uterus.

  73. julian says

    If you cannot force someone to donate a kidney, you cannot force someone to donate a uterus.

    Sure you can cuz it’s natural and surgery isn’t, so there. *sticks out tongue*

    Sad thing is I’ve actually heard this argument.

  74. spamamander, hellmart survivor says

    The last few posts suddenly made me think of little fetuses with #Occupy hashtags, a rather odd contemplation for 4:30am.

    While I know anecdote!=data just my quick two cents before off to work:

    Abortion as a teenager= incredible relief and moving on with my life.

    Pregnancy resulting in child number 2= massive suicidal PPD with MDD continuing to this day. I probably always had some form of depression but since her birth it’s been amplified.

    Yep, sounds like abortion caused all my problems.

  75. No One says

    johnfreethinker says:
    10 December 2011 at 2:56 pm

    UBE
    12/8/11

    1.0 A few things have not changed since I left Christianity.

    All abortions could theoretically be eliminated if birth control was cheap (better yet free), and readily available. But the morning after pill was recently blocked from becoming “over the counter”.

    Yes quite a few things have not changed since you “left” christianity. Including it’s sexual neurosis.

  76. interrobang says

    Dear forced-birthers:

    What’s your position on “castle laws”?

    The reason I want to know is because if you think it’s okay for me to use lethal force to remove someone from my home, why is it not okay for me to use lethal force to remove someone from my body?

  77. pacal says

    “Priscilla Coleman, for her part, says that research that concludes that abortion has negative effects is more scrutinized because it’s “so politically incorrect.””

    As soon as someone whines about political correctness, my eyes glaze over.

  78. Christoph Zurnieden says

    This also makes me wonder if I could just learn statistics from the internet.

    Of course, you can!

    A program called R—yes, the single uppercase letter R, probably because
    it is the free (GNU-free) version of the commercial program S—is
    the computerprogram used for statistics if you want to do statistics seriously.

    You can download the program for several operating systems from here
    http://cran.r-project.org/bin/
    And a list of books, from introductory to advanced and from R-related to
    more general, is here:
    http://www.r-statistics.com/2009/10/free-statistics-e-books-for-download/
    which is also a R-related blog.

    There is an e-books list (books and lecture-notes of quite different quality):
    http://www.e-booksdirectory.com/listing.php?category=15
    (That listing has some subcategories linked at the top.)

    But you too can use Google, just give it a try!

  79. kevinjones says

    The fact is lots of people do abuse statistics, and I do not have the time to actually go over her report and see the alleged abuse, so I will leave it innocent in my eyes until I get time to look at it. The main thing is whether killing a child would cause someone to have mental health problems. I would say yes. Killing something that was created would alwyas lurk at the back of your mind. Also, I find it very sad that most people think on this site that abortions would not harm the mental health of a woman. If you do not want the child give it up for adoption do not kill it. Also, for those who think I have not been in the midst of something dealing with the life of a child my wife and I experienced a miscarriage, so I know the tragedy that we felt, and we blamed ourselves and it probably was not our faults. I could just imagine the pain of someone who actually did cause the death of a child

  80. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    kevinjones, a foetus =/= a child. The fact that you accompanied your wife through the inadvertent termination of a wanted pregnancy (and I’m sorry for you both) does not mean you can project your feelings of loss onto those who have taken the decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

    I’ve had two abortions. Never had a moment’s doubt or unease about those decisions, before during or since: nothing but a huge relief (and I didn’t have to shell out, either – that’s what taxes are for, you know – healthcare among other things).

    I now have two (nearly) adult children who I like rather a lot. Obviously I’m a sample size of one, but speaking from my own experience I’d say that having and bringing up kids is orders of magnitude more tiring, stressful and bloody difficult – it is not something to undertake unless you are damn sure you want to.

  81. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    Also, I find it very sad that most people think on this site that abortions would not harm the mental health of a woman. If you do not want the child give it up for adoption do not kill it.

    Spoken like a person who has never considered, and probably never will consider, what it actually means to be pregnant and give birth. Anyone who seriously thinks about that for more than 10 seconds cannot fail to comprehend why getting an abortion is far less stressful than giving birth and then giving up the baby.

  82. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    Anyone who seriously thinks about that for more than 10 seconds cannot fail to comprehend why getting an abortion is far less stressful than giving birth and then giving up the baby.

    QFT.

  83. dianne says

    If you do not want the child give it up for adoption do not kill it.

    Placing a child for adoption is typically devastating to a woman’s mental health and the damage is long term, possibly life long. If you really want to improve the mental health status of women with unplanned pregnancies, this is the absolute worst advice you could possibly give.

  84. raven says

    Kevin the evil fundie moron:

    The main thing is whether killing a child would cause someone to have mental health problems. I would say yes. Killing something that was created would alwyas lurk at the back of your mind. Also, I find it very sad that most people think on this site that abortions would not harm the mental health of a woman.

    I see kevin is driving by and dropping off fundie xian trash. This is his second thread. Don’t bother taking him too seriously. He won’t be back.

    Kevin is a typical idiot lying fundie.

    He didn’t even read the thread, a task I’m sure is far beyond him. Kevin doesn’t seem too bright. In any event, there have been many studies on the mental health effects of abortion. Which we abstracted above in the thread that Kevin is too dumb to read. It’s actually more stressful to have a baby for a lot of reasons.

    Speaking of mental health, how does a girl or women feel being forced by weird religious morons to give birth to a kid? Before abortion was legal, they were desperate enough to have back alley abortions that frequently killed them. Happened to one of my relatives long before I was born.

  85. raven says

    Placing a child for adoption is typically devastating to a woman’s mental health and the damage is long term, possibly life long.

    It’s not always so good for the kids either. I’ve recently seen claims that adopted kids are up to 10 times more likely to be abused than biologically related kids.

    This was off a xian website, so it has to considered dubious until further investigation. Xians and truth don’t go together at all.

    But yeah, adopting a kid out has to be a painful experience for a lot of mothers. And it doesn’t end, because they always wonder where the kid ended up. A lot of adoptee parents are xians or Mormons who do it for religious reasons. They are frequently horrible parents.

  86. says

    The main thing is whether killing a child would cause someone to have mental health problems. I would say yes.

    actually, the answer is no, even if we pretend we aren’t talking about something that doesn’t involve any children.

    For example, Cultures who accepted death by exposure of infants as part of life didn’t have parents traumatized by infants who died that way

    death only sometimes causes mental health problems, and it’s usually when it’s a death that is significant, culturally.

    Killing something that was created would alwyas lurk at the back of your mind.

    that’s obviously also not true. Aside from the fact that “was created” is a christoid weaselword, we kill things that “were created” all the time, and rarely do we suffer any consequences for it. Not even all soldiers end up with PTSD because they kill “something that was created”.

    Also, I find it very sad that most people think on this site that abortions would not harm the mental health of a woman.

    yes, I’m sure it’s “sad” for a christoid fuck like you that we prefer to follow the evidence, which says there isn’t any mental trauma from abortions.

    If you do not want the child give it up for adoption do not kill it.

    oh yeah; because THAT’s not going to cause any mental anguish at all. idiot.

    I experienced a miscarriage, so I know the tragedy that we felt, and we blamed ourselves and it probably was not our faults.

    which is nothing like abortion, and if you weren’t a complete idiot, you’d know that.

    I could just imagine the pain of someone who actually did cause the death of a child

    well, good thing then that abortion isn’t killing a child or causing the death of a child. It’s removal of a clump of cells. It’s only traumatic when one ends up being harassed by assholes like you because of it.

  87. DaveL says

    The biochemical state is no different from that of a miscarriage. Except that there is emotional support for the woman grieving a lost pregnancy. As superficial as the cliches may seem, society condones her expressions of sadness. No one would dream of shaming her.

    I wish, I wish, I wish that were true. The very word comes from the idea that it’s somehow the woman’s fault (i.e. she “carried it wrong”).

    …Yeah, some people really suck.

  88. alysonmiers says

    I think kevinjones is one of those guys who say that any woman who isn’t racked with guilt and anguish over having an abortion is “shallow” and “selfish.” Because when the data isn’t on your side, pick up those goalposts again!

  89. chigau (違う) says

    Since he’s never coming back here:
    I think kevinjones tortures kittens in his basement.

  90. anteprepro says

    Also, I find it very sad that most people think on this site that abortions would not harm the mental health of a woman.

    I find it very sad that you assume this to be true, even in the face of various links saying the exact opposite in the comments and the discrediting of one of the handful of studies that say that it is true. But you don’t want evidence, do you? You just want to say “well, maybe abortion leads to mental health problems. Therefore, abortions hurt women. QED.” Facts be damned.

    If you do not want the child give it up for adoption do not kill it.

    What is wrong with you fucking morons and your inability to grasp three incredibly simple, easy to find facts?
    1. The vast majority of abortions (roughly 90%) occur in the first trimester.
    2. Fetuses may not feel pain until the third trimester, and thalamacortical sensory input is established at the 26th week at earliest.
    3. Fetuses will not even reach 50% viability (chance of surviving without using the mother) for another 11 weeks past the first trimester.

    It is so typical of forced birthers to think that “killing” something residing inside of one’s own body (and that has virtually no capacity for sensation, thought or pain) is obviously the wrong choice, while continuing along the course of pregnancy for 11 to 28 more weeks and then ditching the now biologically independent, sensing, thinking, pain-experiencing child is obviously the right choice. It is typical, because it reflects their utter inability to think about the issue with any amount of depth.

  91. dianne says

    By coincidence, there happens to be a New England J of Medicine article concerning early abortion right now. This is what it has to say about the psychological risks of abortion: “Most women will find it difficult to make the decision to have an abortion, and many will find the experience stressful and unpleasant. However, the most common emotional response after abortion is a profound sense of relief, although some women have lingering feelings of sadness and regret.18 The main predictor of mental health problems after abortion is mental health difficulties preceding the pregnancy. Systematic reviews of observational studies37-39 and a more recent large, population-based, cohort study using linked Danish registries40 concluded that there was no increased risk of mental disorders after an induced abortion in the first trimester.”

    In other words, yeah, abortion isn’t recommended as something to do for a good time, but it’s hardly going to cause long term mental health problems. Unlike, say, continuing the pregnancy and facing the decision of giving the child up for adoption to who knows whom or trying to raise when you don’t want to.

  92. ButchKitties says

    I refuse to use that stupid UBE term

    I think the term is oddly appropriate, given that a first trimester fetus has roughly the same amount of brain activity as a purple yam.

  93. says

    As the BBC programme mentioned, an unwanted pregnancy is a huge stressor. I have read about research by disinterested researchers which found that young women who have abortions are more likely to take charge of their lives, finish school, find employment, etc. than those that didn’t get pregnant in the first place. Cause or common result? Who knows.

  94. says

    There’s a popularization effect that can be very, very harmful. If I do a Web search for dangers of abortion vs. childbirth, the overwhelming majority of links on the first three pages are about the dangers of abortion and how abortion is more dangerous to a woman than childbirth, even though the opposite is true by a factor of 13:1 for death and 100:1 for major abdominal surgery (World Health Org. statistics). And you know that most people won’t look beyond the first page. We need to write this up, folks, blog about it, Facebook it, Reddit it, Tumblr, it, whatever it takes to get the truth out where people can find it.

  95. says

    Spectator, as one who has dealt with miscarriage, abortion, and childbirth, I point out that your description of the hormonal changes after the first two are vastly overstated. Perhaps the hormones haven’t built up enough since the placenta is still very small.

    Switching to medical statistics now, full-term childbirth carries a 20% risk of serious postpartum depression that should get treatment but often doesn’t. The anti-choice literature, while banging the drum to warn of the psychological dangers of abortion, fails to mention either the disaster of unwanted pregnancy or the very real danger of postpartum depression.

  96. twist says

    It’s only traumatic when one ends up being harassed by assholes like you because of it.

    Yup. Being surrounded by people arguing that you’re murdering your baby while also (usually) calling you an irresponsible slut who deserves pregnancy (baby as punishment, a very mentally healthy view that is!) is bound to be more stressful that just being allowed to get on with it.

    If you’re against abortion, don’t have one. Nobody is making you, that’s why it’s called choice. Just leave everybody else alone, you have no right to police anybody else’s body.

    The rational among us realise that a fetus is a fetus and a child is a child. They are not the same thing. Most of us would not dream of hurting the latter, which is something we can say that a lot of fundie pro-life-until-it’s-out-of-the-womb-then-beat-it-to-death-for-all-we-care-ers can’t.

  97. says

    Interrobang wins the thread!

    Dear forced-birthers:
     
    What’s your position on “castle laws”?
     
    The reason I want to know is because if you think it’s okay for me to use lethal force to remove someone from my home, why is it not okay for me to use lethal force to remove someone from my body?

    Someone said that contraception could eliminate all abortions. That’s not strictly true. Freely available and used contraception could make a huge dent in the number of abortions needed; but even the better methods (barring sterilization) have a failure rate of about 3% per year. Avoiding pregnancy for two years in a row has a probability of 0.97 x 0.97. F; for three years, 0.97**3, and so on. It turns out that the chances of avoiding pregnancy drop to about 50% when you get several years out. Most women using contraceptives still get one unwanted pregnancy every five to eight years. Abortion is then the backup method.

  98. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    Most women using contraceptives still get one unwanted pregnancy every five to eight years. Abortion is then the backup method.

    Yup. And frankly, if people are sane and rational about it – i.e. there’s no-one around trying to guilt you and ram their religious bullshit down your throat – it doesn’t have to be any more “traumatic” than any other minor, day-patient medical care.

    Reliable contraception is the greatest, but even so a backup is sometimes needed.

    Years later, I’m perfectly satisfied that I made the right decision.

  99. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    … (hit submit comment too soon) … the only difference today is that I’m more aware of the existence of people trying to pile on the guilt for others for the sake of their own personal forced-birth agenda. The forced-birthers are truly contemptible.