First mentioned in passing in a January 21 New York Times article, the APA has appointed a task force to conduct an updated review of research on abortion and mental health outcomes. In contrast to the more public process used by the APA to appoint the task force on sexual orientation responses, the APA did not consult the membership for nominations. The APA reached back to partially reconfigure the 1989 task force that found minimal mental health risk in abortion. The members of the Task Force are:
Mark Appelbaum, PhD, University of California, San Diego
Linda Beckman, PhD, California School of Professional Psychology
Mary Ann Dutton, PhD, Georgetown University School of Medicine
Brenda Major, PhD, University of California-Santa Barbara
Nancy Felipe Russo, PhD, Arizona State University
Carolyn West, PhD, University of Washington, Tacoma
According to Rhea Farberman, PR Officer at APA,
A slate of potential members for this task force was determined based on a database search of research on abortion and related issues. That initial list was reviewed by the APA Committee on Women in Psychology which sent recommendations to the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest which in turn sent recommendations to the APA Board of Directors. The Board of Directors made the final appointments to the task force.
The task force was constituted with the following goals:
Include leading researchers who were members of the group that did the review 15 years ago, while not completely reconstituting the original group;
Include research and practice expertise in the following areas: social attitudes, sexual behaviors, violence/trauma/sexual assault, women’s mental health, and minority populations; and,
Include a methodologist, because so many of the most visible/critical questions are methodological in nature.
Concerning the final composition of the task force, three of the task force members have prior expertise directly related to issue of abortion and mental health; the other three have expertise in the related issues noted above.
The manner and members of the task force have raised some questions. One psychologist I interviewed, Dr. Rachel MacNair, wonders about the objectivity of this committee. Dr. MacNair is the author of Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The psychological consequences of killing. Dr. MacNair says she is a “pro-life feminist” who “sees all violence as connected and wrong, with abortion being one kind of violence.” She observed that half of the task force have been openly critical of pro-life views and have public positions negating any relationship between abortion and negative mental health consequences. Dr. MacNair also believes qualified people were overlooked by the APA’s selection process.
Would the committee’s credibility have been strengthened by including members with opposing perspectives? Dr. MacNair thinks so and told me, “Only if the report comes out with conclusions opposite to what one would expect with the ideological commitment of half of its members will it have credibility. If it comes out as predicted, the absence of balance on the task force will be a problem for its scientific credibility.”
You can read more of Dr. MacNair’s thoughts in a column I just posted on my website call Abortion and American Psychology.
UPDATE: 5/18/07 – The Washington Times carried the Abortion and American Psychology column today.