Since the early 1980s Vincent Rue, originator of the concept “post-abortion syndrome,” has been spreading myths and misinformation about the connections between mental health and abortion. Back in 2004, Vincent Rue and Priscilla Coleman collaborated on an article arguing that “for some women, abortion is a traumatic stressor capable of causing PTSD symptoms.” They suggest that this is “beyond politics” and that abortion’s connection to post traumatic stress disorder is an “increasing public health concern.” In fact, post-abortion syndrome is not recognized by either the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association.
"Post-abortion syndrome” claims that abortion procedures trigger symptoms similar to PTSD. Both Coleman and Rue have had their claims and research discredited by major medical research institutions. In fact, in an effort to thoroughly dispute these claims, the American Psychological Association put together a task force on mental health and abortion. In 2008, they reported that post-abortion syndrome does not exist. According to their report, “the best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.” You can read an executive summary of their findings here. You can read the full report here.
Despite the fact that Rue and Coleman have been repeatedly discredited, their erroneous claims still pose a threat to abortion access. Anti-abortion organizations continue to give the two academics a platform to spread their misinformation. This misinformation leads to the false belief that abortion is somehow unsafe for women. Rue, in particular, has been called upon recruit “expert witnesses” for trails and hearings related to abortion regulations. As a result of the false information Rue and his colleagues spread, doctors in some states require physicians to provide scripted and biased counseling, falsely connecting mental health and abortion. In Michigan, for example, 24 hours before obtaining an abortion, a woman must receive coercive, state-prepared materials that (among other things) warn her that “as a result of an abortion, some women may experience depression, feelings of guilt, sleep disturbance, loss of interest in or work or sex, or anger.”
Rue’s misinformation is particularly relevant right now. Wisconsin’s SB 206 is currently being challenged – I wrote about this challenge a couple of weeks ago. Last week, the Isthmus, a Wisconsin newspaper, reported that the discredited Rue helped two of the state’s “expert witnesses” craft their testimony. In their testimony, both witnesses, Dr. James Anderson and Dr. James Linn, stated that they weren’t aware that Rue had been discredited by the medical community. You can read more about Rue’s potential impact on the TRAP trial here.
Rue’s continued presence in the abortion rights debate is dangerous. Despite the fact that the medical community repeatedly debunks all of Rue’s findings (even as recently as 2012), his misinformation plants a seed of disbelief and, as former surgeon general Everett Koop once said, “As soon as you contaminate the morality of your stand by getting worried about the health effects of abortion on women, you have weakened the whole thing.” Vincent Rue is serious a threat to abortion access. He may not be the most visible abortion opponent, but, as today's MSNBC article on Rue states, “his fingerprints are everywhere.”