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Hushing Up The Health Risks Of Abortion Is Unjust To Women

Last week Jane Gilmore wrote an article for Daily Life criticising Women's Forum Australia for screening Hush, a new documentary about the impact of abortion on women's health.

We were disappointed, but not surprised, that despite choosing to publish an unbalanced article that attacks our organisation, Daily Life refused to allow us a right of reply, due to its unwillingness to engage in actual dialogue with perspectives that do not fit with its ideological bent.

Although supposedly concerned about conspiracies and misinformation, this didn't stop Gilmore from spreading conspiracies and misinformation of her own. She accused Women's Forum of "hiding a faith-based agenda behind an alleged concern for women's health." Claiming that our concern for women is a mere charade is a very serious accusation. Her evidence?

First, the Australian Christian Lobby promoted our event. Last time I checked we live in a democracy where Australian citizens, even Christians, are allowed to promote other people's events - including secular ones.

Second, apparently the ability of Melinda Tankard Reist (a former director and founder of Women's Forum) to appeal to a wide range of individuals and organisations with her work on sexual exploitation - including Christians - means that Women's Forum must have a "right-wing Christian" agenda.

Quite apart from the fact that Melinda hasn't actually been involved with Women's Forum for close to a decade, the purpose and objectives of Women's Forum have no religious content whatsoever. To assert that any association or common interest in some issues with a religious organisation means otherwise is laughable.

Ongoing attempts by some commentators to discredit individuals and organisations with whose views they disagree by labelling them "religious" are quite frankly old and boring. Surely we can muster a more substantial dialogue than that.

Gilmore perpetuates misinformation herself when she claims that the causal relationship between "breast cancer, infertility and mental illness" are "thoroughly debunked myths." In terms of the relationship between abortion and psychological harm, there is strong evidence to support such a link.

For example, a longitudinal study by Professor David Fergusson and colleagues, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2008, showed that women who have abortions are 30% more likely to suffer mental health problems than other women, including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance use disorders.

Despite being "pro-choice" himself, Fergusson received strong opposition to his research because it did not tow the ideological line that abortion is a "safe medical procedure." Fully aware of "the circus" the publication would provoke, Fergusson said it would be "scientifically irresponsible" not to publish the results just because they were controversial.

A meta-analytic review of the abortion and mental health literature by Dr Priscilla Coleman, also published by theBritish Journal of Psychiatry in 2011, showed a generally consistent association between abortion and moderate to highly increased risks of psychological problems. The Queensland Government has itself recognised the increased risk of suicide worldwide among women who have abortions.

Then there is the question of abortion and breast cancer. As recognised on the Cancer Australia government website, it is already well established that "[h]aving children is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer. The more children women have, the more their risk of breast cancer appears to be reduced."

Breast Cancer Network Australia also states that "[w]omen who haven't had a full term pregnancy or who have their first child after age 30 have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who gave birth before age 30."

It is therefore already understood that completing a full term pregnancy has a protective effect against breast cancer and that this is lost with abortion. What is still up for debate is whether abortion and miscarriage leave a woman with more cancer-vulnerable breast tissue than before she was pregnant.

So let's have a conversation about that. We believe the doctors, scientists and heartbroken women featured in theHush documentary have put forward a serious case about the links between breast cancer and abortion that women have the right to have scientifically answered.

We also know that other groups - including the Australian Medical Association - have simply stated that there is no link, and have dismissed concerns in the documentary and the scientific, peer reviewed and published studies to the contrary. Women deserve a more scientifically rigorous response that that.

Just look at the recent Danish study showing women on the Pill were 23% more likely to be treated for depression - that's a link many women have lived, and yet a link that has been dismissed by some health groups for years simply because it didn't fit with their ideology.

This is a critically important issue for women's health and we need to be able to have a discussion about it without it disintegrating into name-calling and threats of conspiracy.

That's why Women's Forum has been hosting screenings of Hush - because we want to open the discussion about the impact of abortion on women's health in a civilised and respectful way. Because in the end it is women, particularly our young women, who will suffer when dialogue is shut down as a result of ideology.

Originally published on ABC, 27 October 2016.


Rachael Wong
Rachael Wong is the Managing Director at Women’s Forum Australia.

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