South Dakota has passed the 72-hour abortion waiting period/mandatory religious counseling law, all to “protect” women from being “coerced” into having an abortion. With just 48 hours left for the governor of the state to decide if he wishes to sign or veto the law, a recent letter to the editor by one of the founders of a pregnancy center that will benefit financially from the law gave me pause.
In a letter to the Argus Leader, Dr. Allen Unruh (owner of the Alpha Center, a group of pregnancy centers that recently performed a “training” on how to counsel women should H.B. 1217 be signed into law), wrote about the “lies” being told (by pro-choice opponents of the bill) about the mandatory counseling and wait period bill required in the new law. But what stuck out most was his statement that “Up to 64 percent of abortions are coerced against a woman’s will.”
It didn’t take me long to find a laundry list of articles quoting this statistic, all of them from anti-abortion publications like Lifenews and Lifesite, as well as testimony from hearings on a variety of “anti-coercion” bills being proposed and in some cases passed in states across the country. Yet no one talked much about the source data, or how the study was conducted, or if they did, they simply stated it was published in Medical Science Monitor.
Intrigued, I went to search for the article itself. Although it is often attributed to a Rue VM as the author, it comes as little surprise that one of the four authors was Dr. David Reardon of the Elliot Institute, a man best known for making a living by creating the non-existent “post-abortive syndrome,” as well as advocating that a woman who had been impregnated through rape would best recover if she gave birth to her attacker’s baby.
The “64 percent of women are coerced” comes from a study called “ Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women.” The abstract does not even bring up coercion, since that wasn’t a major focus of the study — the study was supposed to show whether abortion causes post traumatic stress disorder and if so, if it was more likely to occur in American women than Russian women.
In fact, you can’t even find out the detail on “coerced abortions” without getting a copy of the study itself, which you can download a personal copy of here. There you will learn that the women in the study were self-selected in and chose to participate, which inherently skews a sample from the start. Only 217 American women were even used in the study, making for a very small sample size. And the American women involved were already predisposed to believe that abortion was a morally wrong procedure — 50.7 of the women in the study said that they believed abortion was “morally wrong” and 30 percent said they were “unsure,” and almost 60 percent answered that either a woman did not have a right to an abortion or that they were “unsure” if she did or not.
So, to boil it down, 139 women who self-selected to participate in a study about traumatic effects of abortion, a majority of whom thought abortion was a morally wrong procedure to which women did not have a right, stated that they “felt pressured by others” to have an abortion. Based on that result, anti-choice politicians and activists have been declaring that “64 percent of all women are coerced into abortions” and that laws need to be made to restrict their access to the procedure to protect them.