Just over a year ago, I reported on the creation by the American Psychological Association of a task force to study the mental health issues related to abortion.
The task force is slated to report findings at the August, 2008 annual convention. I have obtained letters of concern regarding the timing and composition of the task from a group called Consistent Life. Their mission statement reads:
We are committed to the protection of life, which is threatened in today’s world by war, abortion, poverty, racism, capital punishment and euthanasia. We believe that these issues are linked under a ‘consistent ethic of life’. We challenge those working on all or some of these issues to maintain a cooperative spirit of peace, reconciliation, and respect in protecting the unprotected.
The first letter is here signed by Consistent Life President Bill Samuel and contains the following concerns about bias and partisanship.
It is accordingly with great concern we note APA has not taken sufficient care with a highly volatile issue, that of abortion. APA has held a position of abortion as being a civil right for women since 1969, and therefore has a clear political stand. Yet the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion had no call for nominations; it was formed by Division 35, whose position is stronger and more focused than that of the national organization; and the final make-up of the task force had half the members as strong public advocates of the pro-choice view. Advocates of the view that abortion is violence to both unborn children and to women, which could balance such biases, are ominously absent. There are several well-qualified researchers who would have been pleased to serve on the panel, had the panel been selected with balance in mind.
Consider also that the report of this task force is scheduled to come out during an election year, 2008. The APA position is in accord with that of one of the major political parties, and in opposition to that of the other. When a prestigious organization puts out a report on a politically volatile issue at a time when political passions run particularly high, any imbalance on the task force will not pass unnoticed. Surely critics and observers will highlight the fact that members of such a task force were unbalanced in favor of those whose views matched the political position of the organization. The absence of those who could best challenge assumptions, provide alternative explanations, and offer differing interpretations of the same data will not be overlooked. We hope you will pause to reflect upon how partisan this will appear.
APA President Alan Kazdin replied here. Here is an excerpt defending the APA's choices of task force members:
Members of the task force were selected to reflect the need to include leading researchers who were members of the group that completed the review 15 years ago, while not completely reconstituting the original group, in addition to covering a wide range of research areas related to mental health and abortion such as social attitudes, sexual behaviors, violence/trauma/sexual assault, women's mental health, and minority populations. In addition, a methodologist was appointed to the group because so many of the most critical questions about the literature are methodological in nature.
As is the case with all APA task forces, the final work product must be grounded in the strongest, peer-reviewed science available and undergoes a rigorous review process within the APA governance structure, including review by the APA Board of Directors and the Council of Representatives, before it can become APA policy. Ultimately, what becomes APA policy must be well-grounded in science, not individual opinion.Consistent Life then wrote a follow up response noting that Dr. Kazdin's letter may have overlooked previous APA concerns over abortion effects.
Lay people don't read the minutiae of the report, and we understand the conclusion [abortion has no negative effects] is all you post on your web page. Is there any other phenomenon where the conclusion is based on those who do not have problems rather than on the therapeutic needs of those who do?
The last question is thought provoking. Informed consent values require that physicians tell patients the possible risks prior to giving consent to a procedure. Clearly not all who participate in any test or procedure have adverse reactions. But some do. And this information is provided to subsequent patients when known.
The report is not available to the public as yet but will probably be made public during the APA convention. I will be surprised if the APA report provides reasonable guidelines for informing women of potential risks associated with abortion.
Watch this blog and my personal one over the next three weeks for additional reports about this task force.