Washington Post Cited Bogus “Post-Abortion Syndrome” Myth Without Saying It's Been Discredited

Piece Listed False “Syndrome” As Talking Point Of Anti-Choice Groups Before Supreme Court

A Washington Post piece on anti-choice groups going before the Supreme Court discussed “post-abortion syndrome” without explaining that the concept was created by a discredited researcher and has no medical evidence behind it. The piece also neglected to point out that the group pushing the myth, Americans United for Life (AUL), is an extreme anti-choice organization trying to eliminate all abortion access, even in cases of rape and incest.

Washington Post Reported On Anti-Choice “Post-Abortion Syndrome” Myth

Washington Post: Anti-Choice Activists, Including Americans United For Life, “Claimed The Existence Of ... Post-Abortion Syndrome.” A February 22 article in The Washington Post explained that anti-abortion activists, including Americans United for Life, “claimed the existence of a disorder called post-abortion syndrome,” which The Post described as “a version of post-traumatic stress disorder”:

Groups such as Americans United for Life went on to amplify arguments that abortion causes a litany of harms to women and claimed the existence of a disorder called post-abortion syndrome -- a version of post-traumatic stress disorder. They also began highlighting dangers they said women faced as a result of unsafe conditions and a lack of regulations in abortion clinics.

Abortion rights groups counter that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures available, citing research showing that abortions in the first trimester, when the vast majority of abortions occur, have very little risk of major complications that might require hospitalization. [The Washington Post, 2/22/16]

“Post-Abortion Syndrome” Is Creation Of “Discredited” Researcher Vincent Rue

Concept Of Systemic Post-Abortion Regret Stems From Work Of “Discredited” Researcher Vincent Rue. RH Reality Check senior legal analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo wrote that the term “post-abortion syndrome” was coined by “discredited psychotherapist” Vincent Rue to “link abortion to various mental health issues like depression.” MSNBC's Irin Carmon said Rue's research “has repeatedly been discredited by major medical research institutions and his testimony was thrown out in two landmark abortion cases as being 'not credible.'” RH Reality Check noted that Rue is not only “discredited,” but that he earned a “well-deserved reputation for biased testimony” after his remarks were rejected from consideration during Planned Parenthood v. Casey. [RH Reality Check, 6/11/14, MSNBC, 6/10/14]

Medical Experts' Consensus: There Is No Evidence Of “Post-Abortion Syndrome”

APA: “No Credible Evidence” That Abortion Procedures “Cause Mental Health Problems.” According to an analysis by the American Psychological Association's (APA) Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, “there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women”:

The Task Force concluded that there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women. The research consistently found that the backgrounds and circumstances of the women who seek abortions vary. The Task Force found some studies that indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion and some experience “clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety.” The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain. [American Psychological Association, accessed 2/23/16]

Johns Hopkins Study Found The “Best Research Does Not Support The Existence Of” So-Called “Post-Abortion Syndrome.” According to Reuters, a review of “high-quality studies” by Johns Hopkins University found there was no link between abortion and women's “long-term mental health.” The article quoted the lead doctor of the study, Dr. Robert Blum, who explained that the “best research does not support the existence of” a so-called "'post-abortion syndrome' similar to post-traumatic stress disorder." The Johns Hopkins study concluded that only “studies with the most flawed methodology” found evidence of “post-abortion syndrome.” [Reuters, 12/4/08]

NAF: Experts Conclude So-Called “Post-Abortion Syndrome” Is An Unfounded Myth. Citing a number of medical experts, the National Abortion Federation's (NAF) fact sheet on abortion myths notes the unfounded nature of so-called “post-abortion syndrome.” Citing medical experts, the fact sheet argued that “mainstream medical opinions ... agree there is no such thing as 'post-abortion syndrome.'” [National Abortion Federation, accessed 2/23/16]

In Previous Abortion Cases, Justice Kennedy Has Suggested Women Suffer “Severe Depression” And “Regret” Following An Abortion

Slate: Kennedy's Previous Abortion Decisions Use “Language Straight Out Of The Anti-Abortion Movement's Talking Points.” In an analysis of Justice Anthony Kennedy's rationale in previous abortion decisions, Slate pointed out a troubling pattern of “blistering” rhetoric from the man commonly considered as a swing vote on the Supreme Court. Slate noted that in several of these cases, Kennedy “uses language straight out of the anti-abortion movement's talking points,” including the blanket conclusion that women “regret” their choice to have an abortion -- a discredited “antiabortion shibboleth,” as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called it. From Slate (emphasis added):

In 2000 [Kennedy] dissented from the court's decision that a Nebraska restriction on second-trimester abortions was unconstitutional. Kennedy's dissent uses language straight out of the antiabortion movement's talking points. He calls the doctor an “abortionist.” He calls the fetus “unborn” life. He calls the abortion procedure at issue one that “many decent and civilized people find so abhorrent as to be among the most serious of crimes against human life.” He was arguably even worse in 2007 when he wrote the opinion for the court upholding a federal version of the Nebraska law. In that case, he likened the procedure to “infanticide” and paternalistically talked about the importance of preventing women from having “regret” about their decisions. In dissent, Ginsburg was so angered by Kennedy's language that she accused him of having “hostility” toward the right to abortion and invoking an “antiabortion shibboleth” in defense of his position. [Slate, 11/22/13]

Mother Jones: Post-Abortion Regret Is “At The Forefront Of The Pro-Life Movement's Biggest Rebranding In Recent Memory.” In an article in the January/February 2011 edition of Mother Jones, Sarah Blustain examined the legal strategy of using the idea of post-abortion regret to push and defend anti-choice legislation, which culminated in Kennedy's Gonzales conclusion that abortion restrictions could be justified because of post-abortion distress. Quoted by Mother Jones, Roger Evans, a senior attorney for Planned Parenthood said, “The chill Carhart sends down my spine is that is really sets the stage for upholding any of these ridiculous 'abortion hurts women' measures.” [Mother Jones, January/February 2011]

In Gonzales v. Carhart, Kennedy Relied On Anti-Choice Brief Detailing Stories Of Women Who Exhibited “Post-Abortion Syndrome.” The New York Times' then-Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse explained that in the 2007 Gonzales opinion that restricted abortion rights, Kennedy uncritically “accepted as fact” the idea of “post-abortion regret” - -“a claim for which there was no valid basis.” Kennedy cited the amicus brief of an anti-choice group called “180 Women Injured By Abortion” to generalize that following an abortion, women experience “grief more anguished and sorrow more profound.” [The New York Times, 9/4/13]

The Post Also Ignored The Extremism Of Anti-Choice Group Americans United For Life

The Guardian: AUL President Rejects Women's Right To Choose Even In Cases Of Rape Or Incest. The Guardian reported that AUL president and CEO Charmaine Yoest said she does not believe in abortions even in cases of rape or incest:

This year, AUL has worked with local legislators in Georgia to help push through a bill enacting an abortion limit at or after 20 weeks' gestation, with no exemptions for victims of rape or incest. Arizona was the first state to enact AUL's model legislation on banning abortions after 20 weeks.

[AUL President and CEO Charmaine] Yoest's personal view on women made pregnant by rape or incest is this: “It doesn't solve one tragedy to effect another.” She says “many friends” in the pro-life movement who have been victims in such cases agree. “They are the ones who are qualified to speak about this,” she said. [The Guardian, 5/25/12]

Mother Jones: AUL's Goal Is To End Access To Abortion By Crafting Model Legislation For Every State. As reported by Mother Jones, Americans United for Life's (AUL) initial goal was to reverse Roe v. Wade, but the group has since attempted to push restrictions on abortion rights across the country by promoting model legislation that focuses on “chipping away at abortion access”:

Understated rhetoric aside, AUL's mission is to end all abortions in the United States. Founded in 1971 by a Unitarian minister from Harvard Divinity School, AUL first focused on reversing Roe v. Wade flat out, but in the 1990s it turned its attention to rolling back reproductive rights incrementally at the state level. Lately, it's been chipping away at abortion access at an ever-faster pace. Its team of lawyers has written dozens of model bills, which are collected in a playbook, Defending Life, and delivered to every state and federal legislator. [Mother Jones, September/October 2012]

PFAW: AUL Aims To Eliminate Access To Abortions Through Incremental Restrictions. According to a report by People for the American Way (PFAW), AUL's strategy involved slowing chipping away at abortion access by creating tighter restrictions:

Since the Supreme Court affirmed a woman's right to choose an abortion in 1973's Roe v. Wade, anti-choice activists have been split on how to go about restricting abortion rights. Several major anti-choice groups, including Americans United for Life, argue for taking incremental measures in legislatures and in the courts to chip away at Roe's protections. AUL's general counsel once compared his group's approach to carving a Christmas ham: “Each slice makes it smaller and smaller until it is no more. [People for the American Way, accessed 2/24/14]

For more on Vincent Rue's discredited “post-abortion syndrome” theories and their connection to the anti-choice movement, see hereherehere, and here.