Saturday, 3 January 2009

Higher risk of mental health problems and substance abuse after abortion

Southern Cross Bioethics Institute has sent me the following commentary on important, recently published, research looking at whether abortion carries the potential adversely to affect the psychological well being of women (Priscilla K Coleman, Katherine T Coyle, Martha Shuping & Vincent Rue, Induced abortion and anxiety, mood and substance abuse disorders: Isolating the effects of abortion in the national comorbidity survey, Journal of Psychiatric Research, in press, 2008).

"The data source that was used in this study was the “National Comorbidity Survey” (NCS). It is recognized as the first nationally representative survey of mental health in the USA. The sample of individuals interviewed in this survey was very wide. It provides the most comprehensive epidemiological data on the prevalence of psychological disorders in the US. The respondent’s ages range was 15-54 and they represent the non-institutionalised civilian population in the 48 coterminous United States. A response rate of 82.6% was achieved with a total of 8098 respondents participating in the survey. However, for the purposes of this study a subsample was used, which only included women for whom there were data available on all variables of interest. So the sample size was based on 399 women who had had one or more abortions compared with 2650 women who did not report an abortion. This is a relatively large sample size for a survey study of this kind.

"The paper begins with a brief discussion citing the expanding body of research conducted in previous years. Many of the studies indicate that there is indeed a link between abortion and mental health problems. However, most studies were limited in terms of their analysis of potentially confounding variables, which introduces a degree of uncertainty about whether there is a direct causative link between abortion and subsequent mental health problems. Coleman et al therefore set out to rectify this by using a large sample size, and also by including useful data regarding situational predictors of several different mental disorders, such as rape history, history of miscarriage or still birth, as well as childhood and adult abuse, amongst others.

Summary of Main Results

"In the first part of the study the authors looked at whether there were general differences between women who had previously had an abortion and women who had not had an abortion. There were differences observed in the following categories: marital status; race; number of residents in respondents household; educational attainment; feelings of being worthy/equal to others; history of miscarriage/still birth; rape; sexual abuse as a child; having been physically attacked as an adult; having experienced a life threatening accident.

"For example, of those women who had a history of abortion, 19.9% were separated or divorced, compared to 11.2% in the group who had no abortion history. Furthermore, amongst those with a history of abortion, a greater proportion were black - 17.9% compared with the non-abortion group of which only 11.8% were black.
In the analysis of the impact of abortion, all of the differences were taken into account to determine the specific effect of abortion alone.

"No differences were observed between the two groups in relation to: the degree to which the respondent relies on familial help; the frequency with which relatives make demands on the respondent; number of children; having been physically abused as a child; other terrible experience; difficulty paying bills; health problems.

"The next part of the study compared in detail the incidence of particular disorders between the abortion and non-abortion groups. The results indicate that the abortion group had a higher frequency of disorders including anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders and mood disorders. For example, in the abortion group, 18% suffered from panic attacks compared with 12.3% in the non-abortion group. There was also a large difference in relation to alcohol abuse, 36.8% versus 16.3%. In relation to major depression, the difference between the two groups was 40.7% versus 26.6%.

Summary of discussion

"The results reveal that women who have had an abortion are at a higher risk of a variety of mental health problems and substance abuse, compared with women without a history of abortion. There were also interesting personal history variables that differed between the two groups. For example, women with an abortion history were more likely to be older, more educated, black, separated, divorced or widowed, live in smaller households, to have been working, have had a personal history of sexual abuse, and have reported unusually stressful events in adulthood.

"The most notable result in this study is that abortion independently contributed significant negative effects in relation to mental health problems above and beyond other traumatizing and stressful life experiences. The authors calculate that abortion is responsible for more than 10% of the population incidence of alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse, drug dependence, panic disorder, agoraphobia and bipolar disorder.

"Indicative of the difficulty and complexity of deciphering the precise nature of the link between abortion and various disorders, the authors conclude that further research is required to elucidate the factors mediating this link. They suggest that it is likely that there are other variables that have to be taken into consideration, such as personal beliefs, which include moral or religious beliefs about abortion. A point the authors make is that while women may initially be ambivalent about their decision to abort, it is reasonable to assume that their beliefs may contribute to, or play some mediating role in, future episodes of anxiety or depression.

"The precise relationship between abortion and mental health disorders is potentially very complex; however, the results of this study and the significant body of previous research does indicate that having an abortion is likely to lead to an increased risk of developing mental health and other behavioural disorders."

Friday, 2 January 2009

Tony Blair’s Christmas greetings ring hollow

“To everyone celebrating Christmas, I send my very best wishes” Tony Blair said on the Tony Blair Faith Foundation website last week.

His greeting reminds me of King Herod (pictured right) saying to the wise men: “Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore him”.

Indeed, the anti-life laws and policies Tony Blair supported and promoted as prime minister and which he refuses to repudiate since his reception into the Catholic Church, continue to cost far more lives than the number of babies killed in King Herod’s massacre of the innocents, even according to the highest estimates.

The scandal of Tony Blair’s position was highlighted in Newsweek just before Christmas. The printed edition of Newsweek’s report was published on the same day as Tony Blair issued his hollow greetings “to everyone celebrating Christmas”.

Tony Blair’s message says: “On this most joyful of Christian festivals, we celebrate new light coming into the world. We rejoice in the chance of a new relationship between God and humankind and the hope which that inspires. We commemorate the birth of the Christ child, and the willingness of God to humble himself for our sake in the shape of a helpless baby. [JS: Tony, don't forget that every one of the countless thousands of unborn children who were killed because of your support, and your government's support, for abortion was a helpless baby.]

"Christmas subverts so much of the world's wisdom. God the all powerful becomes vulnerable; the king of glory whose first shelter in this world was a stable; the infinite reduced to the smallest human form. [JS: Just like newly-conceived embryos, don't you think, Tony?] Usual expectations are confounded by the Christmas story [JS: in which a teenage mother whose child was conceived out of wedlock continued the pregnancy to birth under difficult circumstances], which challenges us to look beyond the world's order and priorities. [JS: Yes, like your government's expectation and priority that teenage mothers should have abortions.]

“So, in the midst of all the celebration, let us not lose sight of the radical challenge which Christmas poses us. [JS: I'll pose you a challenge, Tony, but not too radical: just tell us whether or not you stand by your anti-life, anti-family record in parliament and government] And above all let us remember the divine care for the world which Christ's birth represents. Let us do whatever we can to show our care for the word and for all our fellow humans [JS: What are you going to do, Tony, to show that you care for unborn children?], so that the world becomes a better place in which everyone may find and fulfil their God-given potential. [JS: Amen. A pity you and your government denied that opportunity to so many people.]

“Happy Christmas. Tony Blair”

I continue to pray the Our Father daily for Barack Obama and for Tony and Cherie Blair: that they will have a change of heart - and that they will use their influence in the world to save lives and become powerful ambassadors in the world for the unborn and for the value and inviolability of human life. If you would like to join me in this prayer commitment/campaign which I launched last month, write to me at johnsmeaton@spuc.org.uk and pass on this message to others.

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Massacre of the innocents – British-style

The Christmas season is a special time for celebrating the sanctity of human life – seen in the conception and birth of Jesus. It’s also a time to commemorate unthinkable attacks on the sanctity of human life – seen in Herod’s massacre of the innocents.

My son’s missal for December 28, the Feast of the Innocents, reads: “To picture the desolation in more vivid colours, Jeremias recalls Rachel whose lamentations are heard in Rama, bewailing her children because they are not. Like a compassionate mother, the Church robes her priests today in vestments of mourning, and suppresses the Gloria and Alleluia.”

As a Catholic living in England, I see the priest’s mourning vestments as symbolizing the Church’s mourning for its own responsibility in the massacre of the innocents in Britain.

I think of the ambiguous position of the Catholic authorities in relation to the provision of abortifacient birth control and abortion to children in Catholic schools, without the knowledge or consent of the children’s parents.

I think of the invitation to Tony Blair to speak in Westminster Cathedral, who refuses to repudiate, since his reception into the Catholic Church, the anti-life laws and policies he supported and promoted as prime minister and as a Member of Parliament.

I think of the failure to ban abortion referrals at the Catholic hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in London.

As Luke Gormally, honorary fellow of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, rightly commented on Fr Finigan's blog: "How can the Church in this country effectively defend the sanctity of life when its Chief Shepherd is prepared to approve a code which effectively accommodates referrals for abortion?"

But the situation is even worse than that. How can any pro-life group effectively defend the sanctity of human life when the pro-life ethic is undermined by leading representatives in England and Wales of the largest pro-life group in the world, the Catholic Church?

I make no apology for being so blunt. Pope John Paul II instructed Catholics to be so when he wrote: “ … We need to begin with the renewal of a culture of life within Christian communities themselves. Too often it happens that believers, even those who take an active part in the life of the Church, end up by separating their Christian faith from its ethical requirements concerning life, and thus fall into moral subjectivism and certain objectionable ways of acting. With great openness and courage, we need to question how widespread is the culture of life today among individual Christians, families, groups and communities in our Dioceses. With equal clarity and determination we must identify the steps we are called to take in order to serve life in all its truth … ” (Evangelium Vitae, 95).

The massacre of the innocents in Britain will not be effectively opposed whilst the ambiguous policies of the Catholic authorities in England and Wales in relation to the government’s anti-life legislation and policies are maintained.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Censorship rules OK at the Guardian (on eugenics)

A couple of weeks ago I reported on the Guardian's censorship of comments critical of the eugenicist philosopher, Peter Singer. He had written an article in the Guardian on the subject of AIDS in South Africa. He argued that Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president, was responsible for the deaths of thousands of South Africans because of his policy on the cause of AIDS and on the use of anti-retroviral drugs.

I was informed that, in the online version of Singer's article, one commentator named "ContraSign" left the following comment [at 10:25am]: "Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mbeki and AIDS, Peter Singer, who supports infanticide and euthanasia, is no person to lecture anyone about saving human lives. The death toll from Singer's eugen(i)cist ideas would dwarf any death toll attributable to Mbeki."

A few minutes later, ContraSign's comment was replaced with the message:"This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted." I suggested that my visitors may like to write to the Guardian to express their opinion. Pauline Gateley, amongst others, did so - and she sends me this report:

"Dear John,

I have persisted with the Guardian and had what you may find an interesting exchange with the moderators concerning the Mbeki article and their moderation policy. Because they have an irritating way of not using the reply facility on email but starting the exchange afresh each time I have had to copy and paste the exchange together myself and have therefore set it out in the natural chronological order so that you can read from the top down. The Guardian’s are in red, mine in black:

To: 'community.suggestions@guardian.co.uk'
Sent: Thu 18/12/2008 17:05

I sent the message below to userhelp and now realise it should have been to you:

Dear Sir/Madam, I note that the comments submitted by ContraSign have been deleted by the moderators and that my challenge to this (as PaulineG) has also now been deleted. In the interests of free debate I am at a loss to understand how this can be justified. Nothing that Contrasign or I said is untruthful. Peter Singer’s position is well known and he himself would not deny the truth of his support for infanticide and euthanasia. Perhaps ContraSign’s observation was in the nature of an ‘ad hominem’ but these are not normally deleted, as anyone following CiF debates on Catholic news will be well aware. I therefore ask you, in the interests of fair play and free and balanced debate, to explain how these deletions fit with your general moderation policy and I look forward to your response.

Yours faithfully,

Pauline Gately

From: Todd.Nash@guardian.co.uk; on behalf of; comment.is.free@guardian.co.uk
Sent: Fri 19/12/2008 11:10

Hi Pauline,

It is our policy to delete comments that refer and reply to a post that has broken our community standards and been removed, hence why yours was removed.

It is also policy not to discuss users comments with anybody other than that user themselves. We would give the same response if anybody enquired about a comment of yours.

Best wishes,

Todd
(Community Moderator)

To: 'comment.is.free@guardian.co.uk'
Sent: Fri 19/12/2008 13:26

Hello Todd,

Thank you for your reply. I see where you are coming from and respect your policy as stated. I have now submitted a complaint re stevehill’s comment. Having followed a number of these threads I am well aware that the Pope seems to be freely and regularly defamed without apparent challenge and references to Galileo are all but mandatory in any thread touching on Catholicism and accepted even where wildly off topic. Yet Peter Singer’s well documented and acknowledged views are off limits. I understand your confidentiality rule but what I am seeking here is consistency. In particular, are ‘ad hominems’ acceptable or are they not?

Regards,

Pauline

From: Todd.Nash@guardian.co.uk; on behalf of; comment.is.free@guardian.co.uk
Sent: Fri 19/12/2008 14:25

Thanks for the reply Pauline,

Ad hominem attacks are not acceptable. If you spot any, please use the 'report abuse' function to bring the comment to our immediate attention.

Regards,

Todd
(Community Moderator)

To: 'comment.is.free@guardian.co.uk'
Sent: Fri 19/12/2008 16:09

Thank you, Todd, will be helpful going forward. But I note that stevehill’s comment remains. So, for the avoidance of doubt, is it acceptable to defame the Pope?

Regards,

Pauline

From: James.Walsh@guardian.co.uk; on behalf of; comment.is.free@guardian.co.uk
Sent: Fri 19/12/2008 20:04

Hello there Pauline,

As per our community standards we may remove anything that is legally problematic. Again, if there's a comment you believe warrants removal, then please do report it and the moderators will make a decision.

Best wishes,

James
Mod

To: 'comment.is.free@guardian.co.uk'
Sent: Fri 19/12/2008 21:30

Hello James,

Thank you. As I mentioned to Todd, I have reported stevehill’s comment on the Singer/Mbeki piece (17th December, 8.32 am) but note that it remains. I am struggling with this. This is what stevehill says:

“Malicious or not, the former South African president's Aids policy is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths” (quote from article) He stands shoulder to shoulder with the Pope then, who contends that even married couples may not use condoms if one of them is HIV positive."

So, we have a gratuitous defamation of the Pope (off topic) in which it is claimed that he is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. Simplistic and defamatory comments of this sort fail to address the fact that if the Church’s teachings were followed consistently, in its entirety and in all circumstances the risk of contracting Aids, including within a marriage in which one partner is infected, would be minimised and the death toll from Aids would be much lower, not higher, than it is. In fact the World Health Organisation acknowledges that abstinence and marital fidelity is a strategy capable of completely eliminating the risk of infection from HIV. I accept, of course, that you will not comment to me on another person’s contribution. But I do ask that you explain to me how a comment of this sort can be deemed acceptable. If your only concern is whether it is legally problematic then perhaps you anticipate being on safe ground because the Pope’s lawyers would be kept remarkable busy if they followed up every such defamation. But does that make such defamation acceptable? Is your policy to permit defamation, even of such a serious nature, if it is unlikely to be subject to legal challenge? I am sorry to be so persistent and I thank you and Todd for your patience, but I do feel I have not yet received a full response on this.

Best regards,

Pauline

[Dear John] I have received no reply to this last.

Best regards and good wishes for Christmas,

Pauline