JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Matt Blunt, an abortion-rights opponent, has launched a task force on a scientific quest to determine how abortions affect women — a question so complex that it confounded the U.S. surgeon general.
The Governor’s Task Force on the Impact of Abortion on Women convened last week in Blunt’s Capitol office without any of the publicity and promotion that usually accompanies groups on gubernatorial missions.
Its members — all opposed to abortion — were recruited not directly by Blunt’s staff, but rather by a pair of anti-abortion activists.
“This is a very informal group of good people who believe in advancing the cause of life and believe that we should minimize the impact of abortion on society,” Blunt said.
Lest there be any confusion: The effect of abortion is not a wide-open question to Blunt. There’s no likelihood, for example, that his new task force will conclude abortion is positive.
“I certainly would begin with the presumption that abortion has a negative impact on Missouri children, Missouri women, Missouri men, because it’s harmful to society,” Blunt said.
With that framework, the task force still intends to hunt for “truthful, honest information” from researchers, said Cindy Province, a co-founder of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Missouri, who was asked by Blunt’s chief of staff to help enlist task force members.
“We’re trying to get good evidence about the effect of abortion on women and make decisions about what the state can do to help women who find themselves in the situation of an unplanned pregnancy,” said Province, a nurse at St. Mary’s Health Center in Richmond Heights.
The group is examining the physical, emotional, social and economic effects of abortion, she said.
The task force was conceived by John McCastle, president and CEO of Alliance for Life-Missouri, who recruited many of the group’s members.
Among the questions McCastle poses: Does abortion lead to crime?
McCastle draws that question from unspecified studies, which he says suggest that an overwhelming majority of women prisoners have had abortions.
But people in prison typically have numerous problems. Determining whether abortion is a cause, rather than an effect, could be challenging.
In July 1987, President Reagan directed Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to prepare a comprehensive report on the health effects of abortion on women. Eighteen months later, Koop said it was impossible to do so.
In a letter to Reagan, Koop said his staff reviewed almost 250 studies in scientific literature about the psychological aspects of abortion and generally found methodological flaws.
The studies’ data “do not support the premise that abortion does or does not cause or contribute to psychological problems,” Koop wrote.
Later, a U.S. House committee made public a draft of a report that Koop had opted not to submit to the president. That draft said valid scientific studies had documented that abortion is medically safe and does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of infertility, miscarriage or premature births. It also said that the frequency of long-term psychological effects is uncertain.
Since Koop’s review, researchers on both sides of the abortion debate have continued to pump out studies concluding abortion either does or does not cause physical and psychological problems.
Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said he would be happy to point Blunt’s task force to piles of research showing abortion is safe while evaluating the impact on women, families and society.
But neither Brownlie nor anyone else representing an abortion provider is included on Blunt’s task force.
“My first reaction is that I doubt this governor is particularly interested in an objective overview of the impact of abortion,” Brownlie said.
Included on Blunt’s task force is Connie Eller, coordinator/director of Missouri Blacks for Life, who speaks to groups about the effects of the abortion she had 31 years ago as a teenager in New York. Eller says she came down with a fever soon afterward, suffered from subsequent self-esteem problems and grappled with guilt.
“I left there broken and full of something beyond remorse — hateful at what I did, disgust,” Eller said.
Studies aside, Eller testifies from personal experience that abortion has negative effects.
Koop wrote in his letter to Reagan that “anecdotal reports abound on both sides” of the abortion debate. “However, individual cases cannot be used to reach scientifically sound conclusions,” he said.
Blunt is setting relatively low expectations for his own task force.
“I don’t begin with (the) assumption that they will have significant recommendations,” he said, “But they very well may.”