Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pro-Choice, Pro-Life Camps Lack Answers Regarding Depression Risk

Theorized Post-Abortion Syndrome raises important questions, but are we really prepared to ask them?

If one needed proof that abortion has become more of a rhetorical issue than a real issue, a recent online spat between Big Blue Wave's Suzanne and Reality Check's Amanda Marcotte just might be it.

Wrapping the issue up with labels such as "pro-life" (who isn't in favour of life?), "pro-choice" (aren't we all proud to live in a free country?), "anti-choice" (who in their right mind honestly opposes freedom?), and "anti-life" (not even going to touch that one), it seems there is actually an active effort to ensure that the issue of abortion can never, absolutely ever be the subject of rational debate.

Perhaps part of it is the folly of trying to converse rationally with people who are consistently irrational -- but I digress.

At its most insidious, the rhetoricization of the abortion debate has become little more than a wedge issue between feminists (who are "about feminist supremacy") and anti-feminists (who "think through organizing against women, at least bad women, they have earned at 'Get Out Of Female Jail' card").

At the root of the Suzanne-Marcotte spat is the theorized "post-abortion syndrome", wherein women are argued to experience guilt, anxiety, psychological numbing, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Various studies have attempted to address the impact of abortion on depression risks for women, and have often disagreed.

When an issue is as controversial as abortion, it's actually natural that scientists will disagree. It's also natural that more still would feel discouraged from embarking on research in the field at all.

Last but not least, scientists are not immune to holding political opinions, which quite often can influence their work -- particularly in the emerging breed of "activist science".

It's rather unfortunate that individuals on both sides of the issue attempt to turn Post-Abortion Syndrome into merely another rhetorical wedge in what would more properly be addressed as a real issue.

Frankly, both sides of the issue are playing a very dangerous game as it relates to this issue. If Post-Abortion Syndrome is ignored as feminists of Marcotte's opinion suggest, a significant number of women could needlessly suffer. However, in the hands of the anti-abortion crowd, Post-Abortion Syndrome could be promoted as a reason to outlaw abortion outright, despite the fact that many of the alternatives to legalized abortion (for example, back-alley abortions) are every bit as dangerous as Post-Abortion Syndrome, and sometimes worse.

Even if Post-Abortion Syndrome turns out to be a scientific dud (there seems to be little or no scientific consensus on the matter), the plight of women who suffer depression after an abortion is a serious issue, and deserves to be treated as a real issue, not just as a rhetorical one.

There is little doubt that women suffering depression following an abortion vis a vis Post-Abortion Syndrome could be treated no differently than most other depression patients. But if increased risk of depression is a potential consequence of an abortion, women considering abortion certainly have the right to know that.

Most importantly, they do have the right to choose. But if feminists of Marcotte's opinion want to suppress knowledge of this potential risk in the name of protecting freedom of choice, they are certainly doing these women a massive disservice. They certainly aren't acting in the best interests of women, as one would expect as a feminist.

Just as opponents of abortion would be doing these women a disservice by potentially refusing them the right to make that choice. Freedom of choice being what it is, opponents of abortion will simply have to accept that sometimes people will make a choice they don't like.

This is the nature of abortion as a real issue, with real implications for real women. Wrapping it up in rhetoric only makes evaluating it needlessly difficult.

If each side of this polarized debate (Suzanne and Marcotte included) want to decide to soften their rhetoric so that they may in turn soften their positions, those of us who reside in a little place we like to call "the real world" will be ready and waiting for them when they do.


  1. I wouldn't really call it a "spat" per se-- Marcotte doesn't even know I exist, basically. It's more like I wrote an answer to her post.

    Marcotte was trying to frame women who favour fetal rights as thinking that all women who have abortions are sluts. It's absolutely delusional. We don't sit around going "hey, that girl, she had an abortion: she's a slut."

    Of course, I suspect this is just another attempt at linguistic re-engineering. I suspect that "slut" now references any woman who has sex outside marriage. It's an ideologically loaded word that's supposed to make pro-lifers look like they look down on women who have sex before marriage.

    It's an Orwellian manipulation of language, really.

  2. Fair enough, Suzanne, I can understand that.

    But abortion opponents who cast their opponents as "anti-life" are equally guilty of Orwellian manipulation.

  3. I don't see "anti-life" much. Mostly I see "poor-choice" now.(Or pro-aborts, another popular one).

    I also like "fetal rights activist". "Pro-life" is fine, but it also opens up too many cans of worms. "Fetal rights" or "Unborn rights" is exactly what we're about.

  4. That certainly takes a good deal of the ambiguity out of the labelling.

    "Pro-" and "Anti-" simply polarize an issue on which I find there is little actual polarity. I've found that most people actually have complex views regarding abortion. Comparatively few decide to sit out on the margins, so to speak.


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