Comparing oranges to citrus fruits

Via Amanda Marcotte on Twitter, Brenda Major sets the record straight at WaPo on mental health after abortion:

As part of this strategy, some antiabortion activists, such as David Reardon of the Elliot Institute, an antiabortion advocacy group, have scoured existing survey data for evidence linking abortion and a wide variety of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and alcohol use. They cite any correlations they find as evidence that abortion causes harm to women.

But there are at least two logical flaws at play here. The first is a confusion of correlation with causation. The most plausible explanation for the association that some studies find between abortion and mental health is that it reflects preexisting differences between women who continue a pregnancy and those who end one.

Prof. Major stops short of pointing out, in so many words, that the Elliot Institute and its ilk are basically comparing oranges to citrus fruits. It is piss-poor social science to compare women who resolve their unintended pregnancies through abortion to the general population of women who give birth. The latter group includes women with pregnancies covering the full range of planned and unplanned, wanted and unwanted. The former is pretty much by definition, composed overwhelmingly of women with unintended, unwanted pregnancies. The remainder are women with life-threatening health problems and those carrying fetuses with major abnormalities.

A more honest comparison would be between women who procure abortions and women who consider abortion but are successfully persuaded to give birth. That, however, would require the anti-choice side to a) accept the wanted/unwanted distinction, b) recognize the correlation/causation dynamic in the first place. It would also reflect the difference between women who can be pressured into staying pregnant and those whose circumstances are so thoroughly desperate that there aren’t enough Crisis Pregnancy Centers (aka Bullshit Worship Centers) in the world.

Could it be, possibly, that women who are at risk for certain mental health problems are more likely to have unintended pregnancies? Just maybe? Could it be that poverty and abusive relationships lead to a lot of unwanted pregnancies AND higher rates of depression? Could it be that finding out your wanted baby is going to die shortly after birth, or that you will die if you continue the pregnancy, might leave you traumatized, just a little? Prof. Major also points out that if abortion is hazardous to some women’s mental health, childbirth isn’t any better. I would add, like the baby-eating heathen asshole that I am, that a woman who regrets her abortion is, in a very real sense, expressing her suffering from a position of privilege. It is the privilege of not having to parent a helpless infant. It is the privilege of getting on with her life in ways that wouldn’t have been possible with a full-term pregnancy, that allows her to think about how bad she feels about the baby she didn’t have.

No one ever wants to talk about women who regret having children.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this type of data-mining from anti-choicers is a concession to reproductive freedom. The definition of murder has nothing to do with the consequences to the killer’s mental health. If anything, a murderer who feels shitty about her crime is treated like less of a criminal, not more. If abortion is truly murder, then the woman’s mental health after the fact should be a non-issue. The fact that anti-choicers are making it an issue (without even the benefit of meaningful evidence) shows that they are not secure in their ability to protect the unborn.