DFC Irish Times Letter

Letter from Dr Peadar O’Grady in The Irish Times

Sir, – Breda O’Brien (Opinion, April 27th) has grossly misrepresented the mental health evidence in relation to abortion. She derides the “faith-based dogma” of “fundamentalists” and praises “scientists” “adhering only to empirical evidence”.

Good scientists, however, do not rush to judgment on new research. The research Ms O’Brien quotes, by New Zealand academic David Fergusson and two colleagues, was just published in April in a relatively obscure psychiatric journal and has not yet been scientifically critiqued by Fergusson’s peers.

Good scientists do not ignore the previous research. Two previously published systematic scientific reviews in 2008 and 2011 by organisations representing tens of thousands of psychologists and psychiatrists have found no increase in mental health problems in women choosing an abortion. These studies have been critiqued by peers and their findings are well-founded scientifically. While Fergusson is correct that there is a lack of direct evidence of mental health benefits in abortion, there is indirect historical evidence that in countries where access to abortion is restricted the suicide rate in pregnancy is higher.

Most importantly, good scientists do not misrepresent the very evidence they are claiming to promote. In this same research paper David Fergusson concludes: “. . . it would be premature to conclude emphatically that this evidence is sufficient grounds for believing that abortion has adverse effects on mental health”.

Despite that Ms O’Brien emphatically did just that.

She also failed to mention Fergusson’s own conclusion in his paper of the alternative to certifying on mental health grounds: “On the face of it the most straightforward way of resolving these tensions between the law and clinical practice . . . is to extend these criteria to include serious threats to the social, educational, or economic wellbeing of the woman and her immediate family as legitimate grounds for authorising abortion”.

In other words, the only scientific paper the anti-choice movement can find which seems to back up its conclusion for restricting abortion actually recommends the opposite: an easing of the restrictions to make abortion more easily available. This means the fact stands that there is no scientific basis for restricting access to abortion unless, of course, we rely on the faith-based dogma of fundamentalists. – Yours, etc,