Does Abortion Cause Women to Be Physically Abusive?

Does abortion cause women to be more likely to physically abuse their children? That’s how research by Bowling Green State University professor Priscilla Coleman is being portrayed by conservative news outlets like The Washington Times, but the claim largely falls apart on close examination.

Coleman studied 518 low-income women in Baltimore that included 118 abusive mothers, 119 neglecting mothers, and 281 mothers with no history of either neglect or abuse. Out of that sample, Coleman found that women who had experienced any sort of pregnancy loss, such as an abortion of miscarriage, had a 99 percent higher risk of abusing their children than those who had never had an abortion according to the Washington Times.

The Times quotes Coleman as saying,

There’s a good number of women who have abortions, experience it as a … loss with bereavement, some guilt — guilt is a pretty common experience with abortion. Those kind of effects could cause anger, and we know parents who abuse their children often have anger-control issues.

But does this really tell us that having an abortion is linked to physical abuse of children? Consider another study that Coleman did that used just this sort of methodology.

For a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Coleman examined 56,000 women who were part of California’s Medicaid program. Of that sample, 15,000 had had abortions, compared to 41,000 who had not. Coleman then tracked admissions for psychiatric illnesses by the women in the year after they either had an abortion or gave birth.

Only 0.7 percent of women who gave birth were hospitalized for psychiatric problems, while 1.5 percent of the women who had an abortion were hospitalized for psychiatric problems in the following year. Moreover, women who had abortions had a 160 percent higher risk of being admitted to a hospital for psychiatric women in the first 90 days after having an abortion than did women who gave birth in the first 90 days afterward. After four years, however, the women who had abortions only had a 50 percent higher risk of hospitalization for a psychiatric condition as compared to the women who gave birth.

But as even Coleman herself acknowledged, what these studies cannot tell us is if women who have abortions are more likely to be abusive or suffer psychiatric problems or if women more likely to be abusive or suffer psychiatric problems are also simply more likely to have abortions. As Arizona State University professor Nancy Russo told the Toledo Blade,

It is just as plausible that the direction of causality is reversed . . . that psychiatric problems cause women who become pregnant to feel less capable of raising a child and to terminate their pregnancy.

Coleman agrees, telling the Toledo Blade,

There are a whole lot of factors that lead up to the decision [to have an abortion], a whole lot of lifestyle circumstances, and that can be predictive. So when you look at the negative effects, what are you really looking at? is it a product of their choice? Or are they experiencing depression or whatever because they were battered? Or because of the abortion? It’s hard to tease apart.

All of these comments apply equally to the claim about abortion and child abuse being linked. It could be that women who are more likely to abuse children are also more likely to have abortions.


After decades of research, evaluationg abortion’s effect still difficult. Jenni Laidman, Toledo Blade, January 22, 2004.

Abuse risk linked to abortion. Shepherd Pittman, The Washington Times, November 3, 2005.

Abortion Linked to Abuse. Josh Montez, Family.Org, December 30, 2005.

U.S. Asserts that Beijing Declaration Didn’t Create Right to Abortion

The United States angered abortion supporters when it filed two amendments at a ten-year review of the 1995 Beijing declaration insisting that the declaration did not create a right to abortion.

The Beijing declaration is a 150-page statement calling for an improvement in the condition of women worldwide, in areas as diverse as education, health care, politics and, of course, sexuality.

Efforts were made at the time to explicitly refer to abortion as a right in the declaration, but these were rejected by governments that have restrictive polices on abortion. The United States, under President Bill Clinton, supported efforts to declare abortion a right. Instead the declaration mad generic statements such as asserting that nations should,

Ensure equal access to and equal treatment of women and men in education and health care and enhance women’s sexual and reproductive health as well as education

It also asserts that women have the right to,

. . . decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality . . . free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

At this year’s meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Status of Women, the United States submitted an amendment it wanted added to any reaffirmation of the Beijing Declaration. The amendments would have added language that declared that “while reaffirming [the Beijing Declaration] that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion”

The amendments met with strong opposition, and for awhile bogged down the reaffirmation process. Eventually, however, the United States withdrew its amendments. The U.S. representative on the Committee, Ellen Sauerbrey, delivered a statement to the committee from Condoleeza Rice which read, in part,

As colleagues in this meeting know, the United States has had concerns about efforts to mischaracterize the outcome documents of Beijing and Beijing+5 in creation of new international rights. It is clear that there was no intent on the part of States supporting the Beijing documents to create new rights. While those documents express important political goals, they do not create rights or legally binding obligations on States under international law, including the right to abortion. The United States recognizes the International Conference on Population and Development principle that abortion policies are a matter of national sovereignty. And, we are pleased that so many other governments have indicated their agreement with this position, and we anticipate that we can now focus clearly on addressing the many urgent needs of women around the world.

Apparently the United States concluded it got what it wanted by making it clear that by reaffirming the Beijing Declaration it was not affirming any sort of right to abortion.


U.S. Pushes U.N. on Abortion Declaration. Associated Press, March 28, 2005.

US sparks row at UN over abortion. The BBC, February 28, 2005.

Women?s Leaders Welcome U.S. Decision To Rejoin Global Consensus for Women?s Human Rights. PlanetWire.Org, March 4, 2005.

Statement by the United States Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women. Press Release, United States Mission to the United Nations, March 2, 2005.

Fourth World Conference on Women Beijing Declaration. 1995.

Kansas Supreme Court Weighs Attorney General’s Request for Abortion Records

The Kansas Supreme Court is currently weighing a controversial request by Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline who wants access to a number of medical records from abortion clinics in Kansas.

Kline wants the records of about 90 women who had abortions in Kansas. He is requesting records of young girls who had abortions and records of abortions later than the 22nd week.

On the young girls count, Kline argues that he needs the records to see if a crime was involved. According to Kline,

When a 10-, 11- or 12-year-old child is pregnant, under Kansas law that child has been raped, and as the state’s chief law enforcement official it is my obligation to investigate child rape in order to protect Kansas children. There are two things that child predators want, access to children and secrecy. As attorney general, I’m bound and determined not to give them either.

According to the New York Times, state records show that 78 girls under the age of 15 received abortions in Kansas in 2003.

Kline is also reportedly seeking records of abortions performed after the 22nd week. Kansas has a law — which Kline helped write while he served in the Kansas legislature — which severely restricts but doesn’t not altogether ban abortion after the 22nd week.

Kansas has become a lightning rod in the debate over post-22nd week abortions, however, due to Dr. George Tiller who runs an abortion clinic in Wichita and reportedly performs hundreds of late term abortions annually. Tiller’s abortion clinic is one of two clinics from which Kline has subpoenaed records.

Those opposed to Kline’s request argue that it is little more than a fishing expedition that would violate the privacy of women who seek abortions and likely create a chilling effect among women afraid to have an abortion for fear that their private medical records might be subpoenaed. As Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America told the New York Times,

The vast majority of Americans will rightly be appalled at the notion of a state official issuing a mass subpoena about the most private, personal information there is.

The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments in February in the case, is expected to rule on the issue later this year.


Kansas prosecutor demands files on late-term abortion patients. Jodi Wilgoren, The New York Times, February 24, 2005.

Kansas demands late abortion data. The BBC, February 25, 2005.

Medical-Record War Heats Up Christianity Today, May 2005.

Virginia House Approves Bill that Would Further Regulate Abortion Clinics

As I’ve said before the best hope for success that those opposed to abortion might have is to regulate abortion clinics to death. Numerous superfluous regulations of businesses have been upheld by courts, and pro-lifers could turn the tables on abortion rights advocates by hiding their anti-abortion views behind a patina of ridiculous regulation. Virginia’s legislature is in the process of doing just that.

In February, the Virginia House of Delegates passed House Bill 2784 which would impose a number of new regulations on abortion clinics. Essentially the bill would require abortion clinics that do more than a very small number of abortions to be licensed under the same rules as hospitals, which would likely force clinics to do expensive remodeling and renovation that few could likely afford.

Supporters of the bill, such as state Rep. John Reid know how to talk the safety regulation talk. Reid told the Richmond Times-Dispatch,

If we are going to have legal abortion in the state of Virginia, we have the responsibility to see that they are performed in as sterile and as safe an environment as possible.

Is this guy a Republican representative or a Public Citizen representative? You can almost see the book coming . . .”Abortion: Unsafe At Any Speed.”

Previous such bills passed by the Virginia House have gone nowhere in the Virginia Senate, however, so abortion clinics are unlikely to face such regulations this year.

The full text of HB 2784 can be read here.


VA House Advances Bill that Aims to Close Abortion Clinics. Feminist Daily News Wire, February 1, 2005.

Conference Hears Testimony of Forced Abortion In North Korea

The 6th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees heard testimony in February about alleged forced abortions and infanticide in North Korean prison camps.

Using the alias Park Sun-ja, a 28-year-old defector from North Korea testified that she witnessed both infanticide and forced abortion at Shinuiju Provincial Detention Camp where she had been held for two months in 2000 after having been caught after having crossed into China.

Sun-ja testified that,

I heard the cries of both mother and child through the curtain (at a hospital). And through the partially open curtain, I witnessed the nurse covering the infant’s face with a wet towel on a table, suffocating it. The baby stopped crying about ten minutes later.

Sun-ja testifed that injections to induce miscarriage among pregnant women at the camp were routine.

She also testified to being abused and witnessing abuse by guards at the camp, including,

Severe beatings through the use of sticks, fists (punching), and feet (kicking) were standard practice. Cells were infested with insects, fleas, lice, and other parasites. It was disgusting.

Sun-ja’s testimony obviously needs to be taken with some bit of skepticism given that it was given pseudonymously, but given the immense secrecy in North Korea and other atrocities committed by the regime that we do know about, what she describe is certainly plausible.


N.K. defector claimed forced abortions. The Korea Herald, February 7, 2005.

Feminists Ignore Plight of Mao Hengfeng

I consider myself to be pretty much pro-abortion down the line, but there’s one thing I’ve never understood about the pro-choice movement — why does it feel necessary to kow-tow to China and ignore the horrors of that country’s one child policy?

For example, you were about as likely to hear Gloria Steinem endorse George W. Bush for president as you were to hear a major feminist or pro-choice group highlight the plight of Mao Hengfeng.

Fifteen years ago Hengfeng became pregnant in violation of the one child policy. She refused to have an abortion, and so was fired from her job at a soap factory. She was then told she could have her job back if she terminated a third pregnancy, which she did. The state, however, refused to reinstate her job. Since then, Hengfeng has been petitioning China about this gross violation of human rights.

It came to light in October that in April 2004 Hengfeng was arrested and ordered to undergo “re-education through labor.” Information obtained by New York-based Human Rights in China indicates that Hengfeng may have been subjected to torture while in prison.

Amnesty International highlighted her case on October 6 and urged people to write Chinese authorities to demand Hengfeng’s release. Acknowledgement from feminist and pro-choice groups was deafening in its silence.

Consider, for example, the Feminist Majority Foundation which publishes a regular global news feature related to issues important to feminism. The Feminist Majority Foundation has published a couple dozen stories that mention China in 2004, including highlighting China’s plan to send a woman astronaut into space and several about the Bush administration’s decision to withhold international family planning funds from the UN related specifically to China’s one child practice. But mentioning the plight of someone like Hengfeng is nowhere to be found — acknowledging that coercion and violence are still part and parcel of China’s one-child program would be off-message and might embolden anti-abortion activists, so why rock the boat by defending this woman’s human rights?

Most feminist and pro-choice groups continue to paper over the abuses that China commits against women who do not want to have abortions, acting as if conservatives simply invent such charges out of thin air. It was refreshing to see Amnesty International not flinch from the truth for the sake of ideology,

Torture and ill-treatment have also been reported as a result of China?s family planning policies, including forced abortions and sterilizations. Local birth quotas play a prominent part in the policy, upheld by stiff penalties as well as rewards. Women who become pregnant without permission may be punished with heavy fines, and dismissed from their jobs. With pressure to perform, some officials have resorted to violence.

In September 2002, a new Population and Family Planning Law was introduced in a stated attempt to standardize policies and practice across the country and safeguard citizens? rights. However, reports of coerced abortions and sterilizations have continued and few officials are believed to have been brought to justice or punished for such abuses.

Can you imagine the outcry if the U.S. government even hinted that women who had abortions should lose their jobs? Yet, when China does this — and much worse — to women who refuse to have abortions, feminists and pro-choicers look the other way with a wink and a nod. At best, it’s an inconvenient but minor detail for those who claim to hold as their highest value empowering women to have autonomy over their own lives.


Chinese woman fired, tortured after having second child. PolitInfo.Com, October 6, 2004.

Chinese woman campaigning vs. one-child policy ‘tortured’. The Manila Times, October 7, 2004.

Stop Torture of Mao Hengfeng, a Woman Imprisoned in China for Protesting Forced Abortion. Press Release, Amnesty International, October 2004.