Dr. Martha Shuping, a psychiatrist based in North Carolina, has spent years helping women deal with mental health issues following abortions.
Since 2005, she has also trained people in the Diocese of Charleston to lead Rachel’s Vineyard retreats on healing for post-abortive women. She will speak at a retreat Feb. 6-8 in Rock Hill (see sidebar).
Her experiences with post-abortive women are reflected in a paper Shuping released with three colleagues in November. Research for the paper was led by Priscilla K. Coleman, associate professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
The study used control groups and national data to show that abortion leads to a greater chance of women developing a variety of mental health problems, ranging from panic attacks to post-traumatic stress.
Shuping said the article she co-authored and other recent studies indicate there are flaws in the research released by Johns Hopkins University, also in November. That paper stated there is no evidence of long-term psychological problems from abortion.
She said her paper’s results also stand in direct opposition to an August report by the American Psychiatric Association, which claims abortion causes no long-term psychological problems for women.
The Johns Hopkins University report looked at 21 research studies which surveyed 150,000 women, and concluded that abortion does not cause mental health problems. It also stated that studies indicating that abortion causes psychological harm distort scientific data in order to push a pro-life agenda.
Shuping points out that in addition to the paper she worked on, two other recent studies show mental harm from abortion. In early December, research from Otago University in New Zealand indicated post-abortive women were more likely to suffer from depression. Another from the University of Queensland in Australia showed that women who went through abortions were three times more likely to have problems with alcohol and drug abuse.
In a telephone interview with The Miscellany, Shuping said since beginning her practice more than 20 years ago, she has worked with women whose mental health was scarred by abortion.
“Most people in the mental health professions, including the professional societies, take the position that there is no problem from abortion and no reason for us to have to help these people,” Shuping said.
“I was told that one woman who was depressed over her abortion just had a chemical imbalance,” she said. “That just made me want to learn more about this issue.”
Shuping is a graduate of Michigan State University and Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and has a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from the University of Dayton.
She is the founder of the Rachel Network, which coordinates resources to help post-abortive women. She also wrote “Four Steps To Healing,” a book with versions for both Catholic and non-Catholic women to help them find spiritual healing after abortion.
Shuping said one of the first patients she ever treated was a woman who had been forced to have an abortion. Ever since, she has reached out to women who are suffering mentally after abortion.
One of the reasons she joined Coleman and others on the recent study was because of its wide-ranging research.
“This study is so important because it’s a large, nationally represented survey. It’s not like we only took results from Catholic women in Boston or Mormons in Utah,” Shuping said. “We were able to control for a lot of different factors, and show that abortion is a contributor to more different psychiatric illnesses than anybody realizes.”
Shuping said post-abortion mental issues can occur many decades later.
“For some women, it seems to never go away,” she said. “I once had a phone call from a woman in the Diocese of Charlotte who was in her 80s and was seeking help to deal with an abortion that took place during World War II. We’ve had grandmothers at Rachel’s Vineyard retreats. With this issue, many women have so much shame and they carry it with them for decades.”
Shuping and Coleman have worked together over the years on several other projects. She said the recent paper appealed to her because she has treated so many patients over the years.
One of the main problems she sees is that mental health professionals often do not consider abortion as a possible cause for women’s mental health issues.
“What we ought to be doing is comparing treatment programs, conventional psychotherapy versus something like Rachel’s Vineyard, and finding out what works better,” she said.
The study has been mentioned by several pro-life news services, including Life News, but has not received much attention from the secular media.
Coleman said one of the biggest challenges will be getting the information from the paper out to a wider audience. Similar findings from past research have been hard to spread outside the pro-life and faith-based communities, she said, often because of a perceived mainstream media bias against the findings.
“The secular media is not interested in broadcasting our findings, and typically research suggesting adverse affects of abortion is entirely ignored,” Coleman said.
In an effort to spread the word to more people, Coleman’s non-profit organization, the Alliance for Post-Abortion Research and Training, recently created a Web site, www.standapart.org, that contains resources and other information.
To learn more about Shuping’s work, visit www.rachelnetwork.org.
See also: You are not alone: help, peace, forgiveness.