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'Post-abortion syndrome' debated this week
By Ellie Lee

Scottish newspapers and Channel 4 news reported this week on papers given at the British Psychological Society, Psychology of Women Section conference about the claim that women suffer from post-abortion syndrome.

The Sunday Herald quoted American psychologist, Nancy Russo who spoke at the conference: 'The idea that abortion has widespread and severe negative mental health effects among abortion patients is being advanced around the world and involves attempts to construct a 'post-abortion syndrome'.' Russo also stated: 'Despite concerted efforts to document post-abortion syndrome as a common and severe emotional reaction to the experience of abortion, the best the anti-abortion folk can do is provide anecdotal reports and testimonies from women who report being troubled after having an abortion'.

The article also detailed research carried out by Russo, based on analysis of data on 5295 women in the USA. Their well-being was assessed in 1979 and again throughout the 1980s, by which time 752 of these women had had one or more abortions. The research looks back at what factors determined the women's mental health and what part the abortions played in that. The findings indicate there is no relationship between abortion and the mental health of the women.

Ellie Lee also spoke at the conference. The Herald noted that her paper discussed the reasons why anti-abortion groups have focused their attention on abortion and women's psychology: 'British anti-abortion organisations have diverted resources to publicising the claim that abortion leads to post-abortion syndrome. The medicalisation of abortion opposition constitutes an attempt to reframe abortion opposition because of the problems presented by morally-based claims.' An article about the conference in The Scotsman also noted that, according to Lee, the anti-abortion movement has been forced to focus on peripheral aspects of the abortion debate as the public loses interest in claims based on morality.

Channel Four News also drew attention to the argument that the notion that women suffer from post-abortion syndrome emerged in Britain at a time when it is harder for anti-abortion organisations to gain support for the idea that abortion is morally wrong. Channel Four News and the Sunday Herald also carried interviews with members of the Glasgow based organisation British Victims of Abortion.

'Post-abortion trauma branded a 'myth to frighten women', Sarah-Kate Templeton, Sunday Herald 9/7/00 'Precious Truth?',
Linda Watson-Brown, The Scotsman, 10/7/00 Channel 4 News, 12/7/00

Abstracts for the papers given at the conference are as follows:

Abortion and women's psychology: re-inventing the abortion 'problem' in anti-abortion discourseEllie Lee, Kent University Women's Studies Centre

Over the past decade, British anti-abortion organisations have diverted resources to publicising the claim that abortion leads to a 'woman's' disease' named 'post-abortion trauma' or 'Post-Abortion Syndrome' (PAS). The claim that abortion leads to a such a 'syndrome' or 'disease', is the subject of this paper. I discuss the emergence of this claim as a response to the problems posed by prior forms of anti-abortion argument. I argue that the 'medicalisation' of abortion opposition through the PAS claim constitutes at attempt to re-frame abortion opposition, because of the problems presented by morally-based claims. I discuss the dimensions of the claim, mainly through use of published materials (leaflets, books) distributed by anti-abortion organisation. I focus in particular on the on its construction of the 'problem' of abortion in the PAS claim. I conclude with a consideration of the effectiveness of the claim in winning support in Britain for opposition to abortion, and suggest that to date, the claim has been unsuccessful in doing so.

Abortion and mental health: Understanding the relationship Nancy Felipe Russo, Arizona State University

The idea that abortion has widespread and severe negative health effects among abortion patients is being advanced around the world. It involves attempts to construct a 'Post Abortion Syndrome' and to pass 'informed consent' legislation mandating that doctors tell their patients that abortion is likely to cause depression and other severe mental health problems. This presentation considers the evidence for such claims, reporting findings on the relationship between abortion and depression from large national samples of U.S. women. The need to recognize the pervasiveness of violence against women when discussing the mental health of women who have had an abortion will be emphasized and implications for practice and public policy will be discussed.

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