The original study by Dr. Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University and her colleagues, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, suggested that abortion was associated with long-term mental health problems like panic attacks, depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. Seven states have since used the study to support laws that require women seeking abortions to be counseled on the mental health risks. As it turns out, the study was highly flawed.
One of the fundamental errors that plagues Coleman’s study is that the researchers did not distinguish whether mental health problems occurred before or after abortion. Indeed, in many cases, mental illness preceded abortions, weakening the argument that abortion can increase women’s mental health risks. In a commentary, the journal said the 2009 paper “does not support assertions that abortions led to psychopathology.”
Further, in a letter [PDF] to the editors of the Journal of Psychiatric Research, Dr. Julia Steinberg of the University of California at San Francisco and Dr. Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute in New York say that after re-analyzing the data used in Coleman’s study, they found “untrue statements about the nature of the dependent variables and associated false claims about the implications of the findings.”