Doctors wrestle with South Dakota abortion law.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Aug. 19 2008 6:20 PM

Script Doctors

The dilemma facing South Dakota's abortion providers: Mislead your patients or break the law.

(Continued from Page 1)

That's not the same position that the state took before the 8th Circuit, according to Evans, when the attorney general's office said it could accept variations on the statutory language as long as the basic meaning was preserved. And so whether Planned Parenthood must follow the statute's script precisely will be one of the fights waged before Judge Shrier, who will probably hear the case this fall. (Also on the fall calendar: a November referendum in South Dakota that would ban almost all abortions.)

While the parties parry and feint and wait for their next day in court, the American Psychological Association is trying to put to rest the unsupported claim that abortion causes mental-health problems. The area of controversy is broader than suicide: Researchers who are abortion opponents have also claimed that the procedure is linked to heightened risk of depression and drug abuse. In the last few years, some of their work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals. The APA assigned a task force to review all the relevant scientific literature and assess "the relative risk of mental health problems associated with abortion compared to its alternatives."

Advertisement

The APA task force report, published last week, concluded that "the majority of studies suffered from methodological problems, often severe in nature." One large and recurring flaw: Studies often fail to compare women who have abortion with women who keep unplanned pregnancies. That's the proper control group, the task force said, because women who plan to give birth differ from those who don't in ways that bear on mental health. Women whose pregnancies are unplanned tend to be poorer, as a group, and they are more likely to engage in risky behavior.

The task force authors conclude, "The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy therelative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy." There is evidence that late-term abortions because of birth defects are understandably hard on women. And in general, the task force recognized that women who have abortions sometimes feel "sadness, grief, and feelings of loss." Some also experience depression and anxiety. But the authors found no evidence that abortion causes those reactions, any more than giving birth does. Postpartum depression, after all, is real and relatively common.

The task force report ends with a call for well-designed research that would settle the question of abortion's mental-health implications "once and for all." That would be nice. But in the meantime, the APA report probably won't persuade the South Dakota legislature to change its mind about ordering doctors to march their abortion patients through made-up mental-health risks. The right attacked the APA task force as biased and dismissed its work right from the start. Those critics are no happier now that the report is out. It's a truism that when science and politics tangle, facts often don't much matter. At the moment, women getting abortions in South Dakota are caught in that snarl.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.