Ms. Magazine - Claim of "Made-Up" Post-Abortion Problems Shows a Lack of Concern for Women

By Rightgrrl Contributor Florence Gargaro
and Rightgrrl Co-founder Carolyn Gargaro

August 19, 2001

Ms. Magazine's article, Abortion Under Attack, appearing in their August-September 2001 issue, is an obvious attempt to take advantage of women's suffering to further a pro-choice agenda. The article describes how Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome (PAS) is nothing but an "anti-choice" fabrication.

The Ms. article begins by claiming that PAS is a made-up term, and "a bogus affliction invented by the religious right." Aren't all terms made up? And what difference does it make who names it? [Perhaps the "religious right" doesn't exist since the term was made up -- sort of like Al Gore's "extra-chromosome right wing." As used today, "religious right" does not refer to a specific group of people and their concerns, but is used as a pejorative to portray people with opposing views as extremists.] The existence of an affliction does not depend on its name or the name's origin. If it does, then women from generations past were certainly luckier than women today, since none of them had PMS! Of course, they may have suffered from "premenstrual tension" -- something medical texts blamed on underlying "unresolved emotional conflicts"...but PMS? Not possible -- PMS didn't "exist" until the past few decades. Isn't it ironic that Ms. Magazine is doing exactly what women today chastise the medical profession for doing -- ignoring certain female-oriented conditions, chalking it up to "hysteria," labeling women as "over-emotional" and attempting to invalidate the condition(s)? Of course, this isn't surprising, since Ms. also adheres to the idea that women must have the Constitutional right to oppress the weak (the unborn) in order to be equal to men. For a "progressive" magazine, Ms. certainly does hold fast to some outdated concepts.

The article continues to describe how the whole PAS concept was "anti-choice dirty play at its worst"; that it was part of a scheme to put abortion clinics out of business by encouraging malpractice claims. We don't intend to argue each and every point of the article -- but want to take exception to the basic premise -- that this is not a recognized affliction -- and that the right invented it.

The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, the most widely used medical text in the world, provides clinical information to practicing physicians, medical students, interns, residents and other health care professionals. In the section dealing with Psychologic Aspects of Induced Abortion, it states that most women have no psychologic sequelae. "The women more prone to psychologic sequelae are those who had psychiatric symptoms before pregnancy, who terminated a desired pregnancy for medical reasons (maternal or fetal), who have considerable ambivalence, who are young adolescents, or who had an abortion at late gestational period."

PAS -- a condition invented by the right? -- or a real condition for certain women?

Let's check Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary -- a comprehensive resource for nurses, nurse practitioners and all who work in the health field. Under Nursing Implications for abortion (we assume this is spontaneous, and not induced) -- "patient may require long-term psychological and obstetrical counseling."

Should we assume that women might have psychological problems after a miscarriage -- but none after an induced abortion?

The Ms. article claims that only one percent of patients have severe post-abortion psychological distress. The average number of abortions a year over the last 25 or so years is about 1.5 million, so "only" 15,000 women a year suffer severe post-abortion psychological distress. Guess those 15,000 women are inconsequential. Of course, the article doesn't mention what percentages of women have moderate or moderate-to-severe symptoms, or what exactly constitutes "severe." And, considering the magazine's obvious bias, it's very likely that the one percent figure is a very conservative estimate. Furthermore, the "majority rules" perspective improperly dismisses the suffering of the minority, neglects the limitations of the study population and methodology, and projects the unsubstantiated conclusion that women who do not complain of a specific symptom within the time frame of a study must necessarily have benefited from their abortions.(1)

The article also claims a woman's post-abortion emotional problems aren't always attributable to the abortion, a point we agree on, as does biomedical ethicist David C. Reardon, Ph.D., director of the Elliot Institute. Does Cynthia L. Cooper, the article's author, realize that she actually agrees with Reardon (whom she vilifies) when she emphatically points this out? Reardon states, "It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to complete a study in this field that would be generally conclusive and above reproach. Among other complications, (1) the cooperation of the study population is inconsistent and unreliable; (2) the variety of negative reactions reported by women is so broad that it is impossible to encompass every claimed dysfunction in a single study; (3) the intensity of many reactions appears to be time variant, with many women reporting delayed reactions; and (4) the use of questionnaires and other standardized survey instruments may be inadequate for uncovering deep-seated reactions."(2) The 3rd item in his list is of particular interest in reference to the Ms. article. The study used to determine the percent of women suffering severe post-abortion psychological distress tracked the women for two years after their abortions. However, two years may not be long enough. According to Reardon, "In one study of 260 women who reported negative post-abortion reactions, 63 to 76 percent claimed there was a period of time during which they would have denied any negative feelings connected to their abortions. The average period of denial reported by the survey population was 63 months."(3)

Shame on Ms. for exploiting the real problems of women with PAS (or maybe SPAPD for severe post-abortion psychological distress?) by continuing to facilitate denial. Ms. claims that pro-lifers "use" suffering women to further an agenda, yet that is exactly what the Ms. article does. The sole purpose of the article is to disparage pro-life groups and organizations at the expense of the suffering women. It is irresponsible and wrong to claim PAS does not exist just because of limitations on the research, and to dismiss the distress of some women simply because they may be a minority. Is exploiting suffering women something the Ms. editors consider pro-woman and progressive?


1 . Limitations on Post-Abortion Research: Why We Know So Little by David C. Reardon

2. Ibid

3. Ibid

Copyright 2001 by Florence Gargaro and Carolyn Gargaro. Not to be reproduced in any fashion, in whole or in part, without written consent from the authors. All rights reserved.