Risking women's health with flawed abortion mental health research

Dr. Theresa Burke on Cradle My Heart Radio week of July 10 and July 17

Dr. Theresa Burke

Dr. Theresa Burke

[Updated 10:50 am] Abortion is the intentional taking of an innocent human life. Therefore it is morally wrong. As a result, those who participate will experience a range of emotional reactions including guilt and grief as with any death, and some will experience mental health problems needing treatment. All will need spiritual healing as well (please see our resources here if you are in need of help today).

Dr. Theresa Burke is a board certified clinical psychotherapist who was leading a support group for women with eating disorders when she discovered that every woman in the group had an abortion in her past. [CORRECTION: six of the group’s eight women had abortions.]

Dr. Burke’s insight into the roots of her clients distress was somewhat unwelcome with her superiors, yet the seeds were planted in her heart to do something about the fact that abortion was taking a tremendous toll on the emotional and spiritual lives of the women who choose it. Dr. Burke shares this story in her book Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion.

We asked Burke to weigh in on the research findings of the American Psychological Association’s 2008 Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion meta-analysis which suggested that abortion poses no mental health risk to the women:

Based on our comprehensive review and evaluation of the empirical literature published in peer-reviewed journals since 1989, this Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion concludes that the most methodologically sound research indicates that among women who have a single, legal, first-trimester abortion of an unplanned pregnancy for nontherapeutic [sic]reasons, the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy. This conclusion is generally consistent with that reached by the first APA task force (Adler et al., 1990).

The quote above is seldom used in full, but the report is often cited to promote abortion as carrying no risk of emotional harm. See here, here, and here (where the research is used to prove abortion grief support is the harm and constitutes harassment). Burke tells Cradle My Heart Radio that problems with the APA Task Force were evident from the start. Contrary research findings were reported at the time, but abortion rights advocates continue to wave the banner of safe abortion based on the APA research. But Burke reports evidence existed, supported by new findings, clearly demonstrating an increased risk for substance abuse, depression, suicide, eating disorders and more. She will share those findings with us in this two-part series on Cradle My Heart Radio beginning Sunday July 10 and continuing on July 17.

Dr. Burke wants better care for women.  In addition to continuing her counseling work to resolve emotional trauma, she and her husband Kevin, a licensed social worker founded Rachel’s Vineyard which has now grown to over 1000 retreats annually, held in 48 states and 57 countries, with many new sites in development. Rachel’s Vineyard is the world’s largest ministry of healing after abortion and is based on the extensive research Theresa and Kevin and others have done regarding the nature of trauma and how to heal from it.

Dr. Burke’s approach to abortion grief healing combines psychological insights with the profound power of the Word of God, which participants encounter in “Living Scriptures,” exercises in which they place themselves in the settings of the Biblical stories of forgiveness and redemption.

From her bio:

Theresa Burke serves as a Pastoral Associate of Priests for Life and for the Apostolic Society, Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. She has presented as an expert for the Pontifical Academy of Life’s General Assembly on The Aftermath of Abortion: Data from Scientific Literature. Theresa’s counseling work has focused on women’s issues, bereavement, pregnancy loss, sexual abuse, eating disorders and anxiety management. She is the co-administrator and founder of Covenant Family Resources, a licensed Children and Youth Agency which supports couples as they build families through adoption. Theresa and her husband ran Mother’s Home, a crisis pregnancy residence, which provided housing and computer job training for women in crisis pregnancy and their children.

Theresa holds an undergraduate degree in English Communications with a concentration in social work. Theresa went on to Immaculata University to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. She is a Nationally Certified Psychologist, a Certified Diplomat of the American Psychotherapy Association, a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Board Certified Clinical Psychotherapist, and a Diplomat of the American Board of Forensic Counselors. She holds membership in the Society for Catholic Social Scientists and the American Association of Christian Counselors. Theresa is the proud mother of five children.

Cradle My Heart Radio with Kim Ketola airs Live Sundays 9-10 pm ET, and Wednesdays 8:30 pm ET on NewLife FM


Cradle My Heart, Finding God’s Love After Abortion provides affirmation and hope after abortion from the Scriptures. Here are more resources for help and healing. If you are pregnant and need free, confidential help call 1-800-712-HELP. If you’ve had an abortion and need immediate help call 1-866-482-LIFE. Join us on Cradle My Heart Radio! Call 1-800-811-3003 LIVE from 9:30-10 pm ET Sundays on Faith Radio or voicemail 24/7. Ask a question at kim @ kimketola. For a list of radio stations or for live streaming, go here. Podcast on iTunes and archived here.

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