Read the Muse‘s story on this issue here: http://themuse.ca/2014/10/02/post-abortion-mental-health-talk-renders-backlash-on-campus/
Recently concerns have been raised about several campus presentations on the topic of post-abortion care provided by American psychiatrist Dr. Martha Shuping. Questions have since been raised about Memorial University Counselling Centre’s philosophy and practices with respect to women’s reproductive rights. The Counselling Centre is, and always has been, pro-choice. We are also an academic unit that aims to provide the best possible supports to students. As an academic unit, we are committed to academic freedom and the support of diverse views, values and evidence-based practice.
Two weeks ago I was approached with an offer from Dr. Shuping to share, at no expense to us, her clinical psychiatric expertise and knowledge on supporting the mental health needs of women who have exercised their choice to obtain an abortion. Initially, she offered only to speak to our clinical team. Because part of our mandate is to encourage open discussion on difficult topics and choices facing students, we decided to open the event to the public. We wanted to be sure that critical voices could be heard and that we, as a centre and university, could benefit from the wisdom of all voices on this emotionally charged topic. In hindsight, I am very glad that we did open this presentation to the public, because the one-sided presentation she provided warrants a critical analysis and further discussion on campus.
The promotional material presented to me initially led me to believe that the presentation would be evidence-based and supportive of choice. As she began her presentation, this appeared to be the case. However, as the presentation continued, it became clear that she was bringing undue attention to the relatively small proportion of the population who struggle after making the decision to have an abortion. Not only did she neglect to report on the fact that many women who make difficult but appropriate choices to terminate pregnancies remain healthy and supported, she also omitted attention to the social, contextual factors that often impede women’s choice. With these omissions, the message on risk factors was manipulated to suggest that terminating a pregnancy is inherently risky to women and that women will always need mental health or grief support. This is simply not the case.
One of the most important ways to reduce mental health risk factors following choices on abortion is to ensure there is a safe, pro-choice environment to explore pregnancy decisions in advance. The Counselling Centre, the Women’s Resource Centre and the Planned Parenthood Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Health Centre are such places. All of these local and accessible services provide support for women who need it following a decision to either terminate or carry to term a pregnancy.
The Counselling Centre has offered to work with campus and community groups to extend the discussion in order to address messages like Dr. Shuping’s that appear to manipulate in the service of a narrow and judgmental agenda. In the weeks to come, we will be organizing a panel representing students, academics and community members who will bring the necessary balance to this discussion.
Dr. Peter Cornish, Ph.D., R.Psych
Associate Professor and Interim Director
University Counselling Centre