O’Really? A familiar abortion myth gets another airing

Blink and you’ll miss him. John O’Reilly, the Greta Garbo of Ireland’s religious right, had a letter published in the Irish Times over the weekend in which he belatedly defended himself against Fintan O’Toole’s ‘unflattering’ portrayal of his decades-long crusade against reproductive rights.

At the end of his letter he sneaks in that old chestnut of women choosing an abortion being more likely to suffer mental health consequences and even suicide—and presumably expects no one will investigate what he means by ‘the Finnish studies’.

By ‘the Finnish studies’ Mr O’Reilly is doubtless referring to the 18-year-old paper headed by Mika Gissler and another similar study by the same man nine years later, both cited breathlessly in a host of submissions available on the website of the, so called, Pro Life Campaign, of which Mr O’Reilly is Secretary.

It’s worth quoting at length from both studies to illustrate the sheer brazenness of the cherry-picking of Mr O’Reilly and his ilk.

From the conclusion of the 1996 study:

The relation between suicide, mental disorders, life events, social class, and social support is a complex one. Abortion might mean a selection of women at higher risk for suicide because of reasons like depression. Another explanation for the higher suicide rate after an abortion could be low social class, low social support, and previous life events or that abortion is chosen by women who are at higher risk for suicide because of other reasons.

While the authors then hypothesize a causal relation between abortion and negative mental health outcomes, the final words of the study are these: ‘With our data, however, it was not possible to study the causality more carefully.’

From the oft-cited 2005 study:

It is unlikely that induced abortion itself causes death due to injury; instead, it is more likely that induced abortions and deaths due to injury share common risk factors. Our register-based data were incomprehensive on these kind of variables, and more detailed background information for example on mental health, social well-being, substance abuse and socio-economic circumstances among the deceased would be necessary for further analysis.2

Is this the best evidence for Mr O’Reilly’s assertion? He might find more reliable data in two separate large-scale meta-analyses—studies of the studies—carried out by both the American Psychological Association and the Johns Hopkins University which compared and weighted the best available data relating to abortion and mental health. However, as the conclusions of those studies incontestably debunk the myth that abortion increases the risk of suicide, he might prefer to shuffle and reshuffle through the few individual obscure papers that at least give the illusion of tallying with his own baseless ideological preconclusions.

We’ve been here before, of course…

Yours truthfully,
Abortion Rights Campaign myth-busters