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Why 'Psychological Issues' matter

Women's ability to time, space, and limit their childbearing is a necessary condition for their health, and addressing political attempts to restrict women's reproductive rights is a key element in any global health agenda for women. Abortion is a 'front line' for the defense of women's reproductive rights because anti-abortion politics is a leading edge for a broader right-wing agenda. Meanwhile, worldwide, many women wish to limit or space births. Each year an estimated 22 per cent of all pregnancies are terminated by abortion.

Anti-abortion advocates have used many strategies to restrict women's access to abortion, but their claim that abortion damages women's mental health has particular implications for feminist psychologists. If this claim is accurate, then we want to understand how such damage happens and work to ensure that women have access to prevention and treatment by qualified mental health providers. If this claim is inaccurate, then we have a responsibility to counter it, as 'silence is consent'.

Because claims that choosing to have a legal abortion can damage women's mental health have not been substantiated in the scientific literature, pro-life advocates use cyberspace, which has no peer review, to get out their message. Abortion is constructed as a wrong and shameful act that leads to a psychological disorder labeled as 'post-abortion syndrome'. Women are told to expect 'anniversary reactions' and to 'admit their personal responsibility', to pray for others and recognize that 'they too acted out of ignorance, fear, or petty human selfishness'.

Women, labeled as having 'post abortion syndrome' are referred to attorneys set up to sue physicians for psychological damages. Meanwhile pro-life advocates attempt to pass legislation to impose criminal penalties (which cannot be insured against) for causing such damages. If these efforts are successful, abortion may be legal, but unavailable because no physician will dare to perform one. Although this claim originated in the US, it has spread to England, Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, New Zealand, and central and eastern European countries, among others. Given these circumstances, having research-based knowledge about abortion readily accessible via the Internet is essential.

The Psychological Issues Section provides a source of empirically based knowledge and informed opinion about the psychological aspects of abortion and related reproductive health issues from a feminist perspective. Because the issues are international, the Task Force on Reproductive Issues of the Society for the Psychology of Women has joined with Pro-Choice Forum to create a Psychological Issues Section. The Section emphasizes feminist scholarship and practice, and promotes policies that advance equality and social justice.

The Psychological Issues Section is chaired by Linda Beckman, Marie Harvey and Nancy Felipe Russo and has an international Advisory Group that includes Hortensia Amaro, Mary Boyle, Henry P. David, Susan Dudley, Ann Furedi, Ellie Lee, Victoria Tepe and Gail Wyatt. Please send suggestions and information for the Section to Linda Beckman (lbeckman@earthlink.net or lbeckman@alliant.edu).

Adapted from: Russo, N.F., and Beckman, L.B (Spring 2002). 'Taking feminist psychology into cyberspace'. The Feminist Psychologist, 29(2), 24-25.

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