Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Find all articles about this court decision here.

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Earlier this year, an analysis by leading researchers completely discredited a key article used as “evidence” by the state of South Dakota and anti-choice supporters in their arguments to the 8th Circuit Federal Appeals Court supporting a law forcing doctors to tell women seeking to terminate a pregnancy that abortion is linked with higher risks of suicide and depression.

The researchers also called on the editors of the Journal of Psychiatric Research (JPR) in which the article was originally published in 2009 to retract the article, a step now under consideration by the editors, one of which cited the article’s “serious deficiencies.”

The article is titled “Induced abortion and anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders: Isolating the effects of abortion in the national co-morbidity survey” (Coleman et al., 2009).

In the article, lead author Priscilla Coleman and her colleagues purported to show a relationship between past abortions and mental disorders that were present “at the time of data collection, providing assurance that in most cases, the abortion preceded the diagnosis,” thus ostensibly supporting a causal relationship between abortion and subsequent mental health. The analysis relied, to a great degree, on previous work done by Coleman and her team.

In October 2010, however, Julia Steinberg of the University of California San Francisco and Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute published in the journal Social Science & Medicine a re-analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey data set on which Coleman based her work. Their analysis demonstrated that the share of women in the Coleman study was much too high for events occurring in the past 30 days (the measure most similar to “present or absent at the time of data collection”), and also identifying a number of other errors the analytical approach used in the Coleman paper.

In response, Coleman and colleagues published a corrigendum (correction) that same year attempting to explain why their case made sense. Only it didn’t. Further inquiry only turned up more problems with the Coleman analysis.

A letter to the editor by Steinberg and Finer published in the March 2012 issue of the JPR detail the study’s “fundamental analytical errors that render its conclusions invalid.”

“We are now able to replicate the numbers in the corrigendum,” write Steinberg and Finer, “and, equally importantly, we are also able to deduce the specific analyses performed.”

We conclude that the corrigendum is an insufficient response. Once the problem of incorrect weighting is resolved, a more serious problem becomes evident, involving untrue statements about the nature of the dependent variables and associated false claims about the implications of the findings. [Emphasis added.]

“Most egregiously,” they continue, “the study by Priscilla Coleman and colleagues did not distinguish between mental health outcomes that occurred before abortions and those that occurred afterward, but still claimed to show a causal link between abortion and mental disorders.”

Subsequently, the journal’s editor-in-chief and the director of the data set used in the study concluded in an accompanying commentary that “the Steinberg-Finer critique has considerable merit,” that the Coleman paper utilized a “flawed” methodology, and that “the Coleman et al. (2009) analysis does not support [the authors’] assertions.”

Sources indicate that the journal’s editors, including Alan Schatzberg, editor-in-chief of JPR, are discussing a retraction of the Coleman paper, and RH Reality Check is awaiting a reply to an email to Dr. Schatzberg asking for clarity on the status of the retraction.

Priscilla Coleman is a professor at Bowling Green State University and the Director of WeCare, a gathering place for anti-choice “academics” attempting to use flawed research methods and analysis to undermine peer-reviewed evidence and to “create” evidence supporting anti-choice, anti-science ideologies. Her bio cites as one of her most “recent studies” an analysis that appeared in the British Journal of Psychiatry which was among those later completely debunked by the UK Royal Academy of Medical Colleges.

In reference to the critique of Coleman’s work, Steinberg states:

This is not a scholarly difference of opinion; their facts were flatly wrong. This was an abuse of the scientific process to reach conclusions that are not supported by the data. The shifting explanations and misleading statements that they offered over the past two years served to mask their serious methodological errors.

“The errors are especially problematic,” Steinberg continues, “because Coleman later cited her own study in a meta-analysis of studies looking at abortion and mental health. The meta-analysis, which was populated primarily by Coleman’s own work, has been sharply criticized by the scientific community for not evaluating the quality of the included studies and for violating well-established guidelines for conducting such analyses.”

“Studies claiming to find a causal association between abortion and subsequent mental health problems often suffer from serious methodological limitations that invalidate their conclusions,” says Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute. “In thorough reviews, the highest-quality studies have found no causal link between abortion and subsequent mental health problems.”

So now we have a court decision upholding a law that clearly requires medical doctors to lie to women, outright, all of which is based on falsified evidence.

Freedom in America?

We will keep you updated on what is happening with retraction of the Coleman article.