State-funded pregnancy clinics disseminate questionable science on abortion (Updated)

By | 09.07.10 | 7:00 am

Crisis Pregnancy Centers, funded by the state of Florida, are distributing brochures that suggest abortion causes mental illness, including depression, addiction and suicide. In the best case, the information handed out is biased; in the worst case, sources say, it is wrong.

Specifically, the brochures and online information distributed by Florida’s crisis pregnancy centers ignore scientific research on the issue, including a recent study by the American Psychological Association that questions any causal link between abortion and trauma. Pregnant women seeking help are being misled, and Florida taxpayers are footing the bill.

Florida’s CPCs are funded by the state through the Florida Pregnancy Support Services Program, managed by the Florida Department of Health.

Gov. Jeb Bush issued the executive order that launched the program on Nov. 4, 2004. In January 2006, initial contracts were awarded to The Uzzell Group — a Tallahassee-based marketing and advertising firm — to manage 17 clinics and the Florida Pregnancy Care Network to manage 55. Delivery of services began in March 2006. Also in 2006, the Florida legislature assigned $2 million of grant and aid money from the Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund to continue and enhance the program.

In January 2009, Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a $570,000 budget cut to the program because “this reduction could result in the termination of the program, eliminating the [Department of Health's] ability to provide counseling, support services, and accurate medical information to women in crisis pregnancies.”

The Florida Pregnancy Care Network’s Form 990s from 2006, 2007 and 2008 show the organization received over $3.27 million in state grants during that period. (Much of the documentation cited here can be read in full or downloaded below.)

Some of that taxpayer money is going toward distributing questionable anti-abortion science to women in need of assistance.

The pregnancy centers managed by Florida Pregnancy Care Network include five Respect Life Ministry centers of the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami; the clinics exist “to uphold the sanctity and dignity of all human life from conception to natural death.”

The Respect Life pregnancy center of Hollywood, Fla., distributes printed information written by Dr. David Reardon, the director of the pro-life Elliot Institute.

One of the brochures — titled “Do you really want an abortion?” — claims that “mental health providers are treating an increasing number of women who are suffering mental and emotional difficulties as a result of induced abortions.”

A young woman who asked to remain anonymous gave TFI brochures distributed at a Fort Lauderdale pregnancy center that was a member of the network in 2004 and 2005.

That brochure states, “Many studies have shown abortion to be connected to: clinical depression, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Suicide” and cites studies that link abortion to clinical depression, PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide.

The brochure is printed by Care Net, an organization whose website stresses its commitment to helping women “facing unplanned pregnancies” choose “life and hope.” It adds that “the ultimate aim of Care Net and its network of pregnancy centers is to share the love and truth of Jesus Christ.”

This brochure cites several authors — including, again, Reardon, an important source of information distributed by pregnancy centers.

“This situation reminds me of the religious-based abstinence-only sex education in public schools,” says Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “As a general rule, government should not be in the business of furthering religion.”

“Nobody disputes their right to exist, but if state money is involved we think they should be up front about their goals,” Boston adds.

Florida Pregnancy Care Network Executive Director Susan Grimsley would not answer questions about the brochures, directing all queries regarding the state crisis pregnancy program to the Department of Health.

Rob Hayes, the DOH of communications office, has indicated answers will be forthcoming, but after more than a week, The Florida Independent has not received any further response.

Dr. Nancy Russo, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Arizona State University, co-authored in 2008 an American Psychological Association Task Force on Abortion and Mental Health review of existing scientific literature to explore the link between abortion and negative mental health consequences.

“If you examine the statement, ‘Many studies have shown abortion to be connected to: clinical depression, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Suicide,’” she writes in an email to TFI, “you will find the statement is misleading because it implies that abortion is a direct cause of such problems and that prohibiting abortion would reduce the risk of such problems. Neither is a valid conclusion. The former is not supported by credible scientific research, and the latter involves the ‘interventionist fallacy’.”

Russo writes in her email that “the vast majority of the studies” that support “the claim that ‘abortion damages women’s mental health’ have severe limitations in method.”

“Some of them have been proven to have been based on inappropriate sampling and even miscoded data,” she adds. “Even after studies have been shown to be invalid they continue to be cited.”

In her email, Russo calls distributing information such as that contained in the brochures a “political tactic,” one she says “honest pro-life people” shouldn’t support.

The 2008 review co-authored by Russo makes clear that a variety of factors influence how a woman reacts prior to and after she has decided to have an abortion:

It is not appropriate to compare women who have had an abortion with women who have never been pregnant, or with women who have given birth to a wanted child. Thus, for example, a woman who regards abortion as conflicting with her own and her family’s deeply held religious, spiritual, or cultural beliefs but who nonetheless decides to terminate an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy may appraise that experience as stressful more than would a woman who does not regard an abortion as in conflict with her own values or those of others in her social network.

The review’s authors looked at studies of four perspectives on “the underlying causes of women’s psychological experience of abortion,” finding only one that suggests abortion causes mental illness. Reardon, Dr. Priscilla Coleman and Dr. Jesse R. Cougle — all cited in Care Net literature — support this view.

The other three perspectives reviewed in the report “do not rule out the possibility that some women may experience severe negative psychological experiences following abortion.” Studies instead link post-abortion problems to personal, social and cultural “factors that shape those negative events rather than in the nature of the [abortion] itself.”

The Care Net brochures cite none of the researchers whose views contradict their claims.

The report adds that

women’s psychological experience of abortion is not uniform; rather, it varies as a function of their personal characteristics; events that lead up to the pregnancy; the circumstances of their lives and relationships at the time that a decision to terminate the pregnancy is made; the reasons for, type, and timing of the abortion; events and conditions that occur in their lives during and subsequent to an abortion; and the larger social-political context in which abortion takes place.

Stephanie Kunkel, executive director of Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affilliates, disputes the claims made in the brochure.

“Planned Parenthood applauds the rigor with which the APA Task Force on Mental Health  and Abortion analyzed the published literature about abortion and mental health,” Kunkel writes to TFI. “The American Psychological Association  report provides a comprehensive and thorough review of mental health and abortion and concludes that women who have an abortion have no greater risk of mental health problems than women who carry a pregnancy to term.”

Clinics funded by Florida taxpayers are telling vulnerable women otherwise.

Update

For more on The Uzzell Group, which manages 17 state-funded CPCs, read our report here.

2006 Budget Funding Bush’s Executive Order Grant Layout with Line-Item Veto From Crist Crist 2009 Line-Item Veto Explanation Florida Pregnancy Care Network 2006 Form 990 Florida Pregnancy Care Network 2007 Form 990 Florida Pregnancy Care Network 2008 Form 990
Abortion and Mental Health

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