Who Guards the Guardians in the Social Sciences?
A First Things article berating pro-lifers for overstating the findings on abortion provoked this blog on free speech in the social sciences particularly regarding two-abortion related topics 1) abortion and breast cancer regarding which the First Things author incorrectly stated there is none, and 2) the effects of abortion on the mental health of the mother which the author correctly opined is often overstated by pro-lifers.
Regarding abortion and breast cancer: there is a clear connection but not for all abortions. It seems to be triggered by second trimester abortions, not first trimester abortions. Once the biology of breast development is understood this impact make sense. We need much more careful research (which we most definitely did not get from NIH, nor the American Cancer Society, nor The American Psychological Association). Political correctness (cultural Marxism) reigns supreme in the academy when the contentious issues of life and sexuality are in play.
For a review of the research on the effects of abortion on breast cancer, see this critique of all the major studies used by ACA, NIH and APA to make their conclusions: Induced Abortion and Breast Cancer
The better read for most folk is the summary of the article, unless one enjoys digging into extensive, detailed critiques, a tedious task for most laymen. However when publicly taking NIH to task on research negligence as happened in its infamous and stacked conference on the issue, and when taking on the APA as well, one must be careful and precise.
One of the signs of likely robust scholarship on the “natural law” side is that their controversial studies are ignored. Opponents cannot respond in open debate without giving exposure to the research. The media, sharing many of the same prejudices, do not report them either.
The second area of study — the effects of abortion on the mental health of mothers — is mixed: There are many who are affected and many who are not. Why such is the case is likely a fruitful area of research already underway at the Marriage and Religion Research Initiative at The Catholic University of America under Dr. Paul Sullins, whose published research on this topic is worth reading.
The next stage of Sullins’s research will tease out the different effects of “wanted” vs “unwanted” abortions. The operating hypothesis is that one expects to see quite a difference in the emotional responses of the mothers.
Using the social sciences to cast light on human nature demands research care and researchers’ humility. Before the data is in and replicated, everyone on both sides has to be tentative about his projections. There will be many lessons for both sides. Human nature is not as simple as we tend to make it, nor is it made in the way we often wish it were.
However, one thing I have learned in 45 years of working in this broad domain: there are extraordinarily few in the pro-choice “opposition” who are interested in the unvarnished truth, very few. But they do exist. Dr. David Ferguson of New Zealand comes immediately to mind. But he too found great difficulty getting his (pristine) first piece of research on abortion effects published. For years he and his research team experienced almost automatic acceptance and publication in top British medical journals of research from the Christchurch Health and Development Study, one of the world’s “gold standard” longitudinal surveys. When they first investigated the effects of abortion they suddenly found their research unwelcome and blocked. In the article above, Fergusson (a “pro-choice” man) states:
These findings [of significant harm] are inconsistent with the current consensus on the psychological effects of abortion. In particular, in its 2005 statement on abortion, the American Psychological Association concluded that ‘well-designed studies of psychological responses following abortion have consistently shown that risk of psychological harm is low … the percentage of women who experience clinically relevant distress is small and appears to be no greater than in general samples of women of reproductive age’ (APA, 2005). This relatively strong conclusion about the absence of harm from abortion was based on a relatively small number of studies which had once or more of the following limitations: a) absence of comprehensive assessment of mental disorders; b) lack of comparison groups; and c) limited statistical controls. Furthermore, the statement appears to disregard the finding of a number of studies that had claimed to show negative effects for abortion. (Cougle et al., 2003; Gissler et al., 1996; Reardon and Cougle, 2002)
Such a statement in a well-regarded journal was, and still is, quite extraordinary. It reveals the anger of a truth-seeking scientist with the abuse of his beloved science. By the way, the APA publication he referred was the APA’s submission to Congress.
The situation today has not changed and is likely worse. The suppression of truth, even in reporting the research, is now a hallmark of the mainline scientific associations when it comes to the contentious issues of life and sexuality. This is a crisis within the social sciences. When scholarly exchange and critique is suppressed the science has metastasized and is destroying itself. However, it is so bad now on some topics I suspect the better-minded politically-correct social scientists will soon begin to revolt.
A side note: Google Scholar is a useful resource to find published articles in most areas. I expected to find the Fergusson article (above) there, but it is not to be found. His later articles which find lesser effects on women as they age are carried. Cultural Marxism, political correctness, may be operating in Google Scholar too, a disturbing characteristic for a much-sued “gateway” to research.
Patrick Fagan, Ph.D.
Director of the Marriage and Religion Research Initiative at The Catholic University of America
see www.MARRI.US for more overviews (by no means comprehensive) of the research on abortion.