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Researchers at 17 Institutions Call on Journals to Correct or Retract Flawed Studies

New article shows how flawed science on abortion and mental health is used to justify harmful policy and legal decisions.

Today the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a new commentary by researchers from 17 academic and medical institutions worldwide, calling for journals to correct or retract faulty studies in order to uphold scientific integrity and to avoid the harmful effects of flawed science on public policy, clinical practice, and public health.  The article underscores the need to correct the scientific record on four articles on abortion and mental health outcomes in particular. 

The article comes following the retraction by publisher Sage Journals of three studies on abortion that were cited by anti-abortion plaintiffs in the upcoming Supreme Court case, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA.  In its statement on the retraction, Sage noted that the studies, which were being used to justify reversing the FDA approval of mifepristone, “demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor that invalidates or renders unreliable the authors’ conclusions.” 

The BMJ commentary reviews evidence presented in four studies linking abortion with negative mental health outcomes, determining that the studies contain unreliable evidence, inaccurate analyses, and invalid conclusions. The authors, experts in reproductive health, public health, mental health, and scientific methods, rejected the conclusions drawn in these studies about the connection between abortion and depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder on the basis that they are not scientifically valid. 

As is the case with the flawed studies retracted by Sage, the four studies evaluated in the BMJ commentary have had real-world consequences and have been used to justify anti-abortion policies and restrictions, despite their scientific failings. The studies have been cited in at least 25 court cases and 14 parliamentary hearings across six countries. For example, one of the articles was submitted as evidence in the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and cited by a US District Court to justify reversing the FDA approval of mifepristone – the same case before the Supreme Court now. Over the years, the studies have been debunked by independent researchers and panels and recommended for retraction. However, due to inaction from authors and editors and threat of legal action, they remain in print.

“These flawed publications without correction or retraction continue to be used to inform policies which directly impact the health and well-being of pregnant people and their families,” said Antonia Biggs, Associate Professor and social psychologist at University of California San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH). “As we await a decision from the Supreme Court in a case rooted in misinformation that could further devastate abortion access in the United States, it is more critical than ever that we uphold scientific integrity and ensure that high quality research is used to inform our public health policy.”

“Failures of scientific integrity pose a real threat to public health and safety. The journal editors and their publishers should take immediate action to correct the record and retract articles in light of the incontrovertible evidence of their inaccurate results and misleading conclusions,” said Julia H. Littell, professor at the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College. “Failure to correct or retract these studies only serves to legitimize misinformation and junk science. We must maintain uncompromising standards of integrity when conducting and disseminating scientific research in order to accurately inform public policy and clinical guidelines.” 

The article benefited from a multi-institutional collaborative effort between researchers, scholars, and physicians with expertise on topics related to public health, reproductive health, mental health, and research methodology. Institutions involved in the production of the BMJ article correcting the record on abortion and mental health research include Bryn Mawr College, University of Manchester, University of California San Francisco, Johns Hopkins, Population Council, University of California Santa Barbara, University of Southern Denmark, , Aarhus University, University of Toronto, Arizona State University, University of Maryland, Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, Rush University, Utrecht University, and Amsterdam University Medical Center.

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