All News

Julia Littell Leads Researchers Calling on Journals to Correct Abortion Studies

March 6, 2024

Julia H Littell, professor emerita in the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, is lead author of a recent commentary in The British Medical Journal calling on 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, say the researchers.

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 U.S. 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.

“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 Littell in a press release issued with the commentary. “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.”

Read the full press release here.