Post-congressional depression

A bill promises to help fund research into postpartum depression. But it includes a little antiabortion shout-out, too.

Published October 16, 2007 4:19PM (EDT)

Here's some sort of heartening news for anyone suffering from -- or worried about -- postpartum depression: Monday the House passed H.R. 20, a bill that authorizes $3 million in 2008 for studies that address postpartum depression and for a national campaign to raise public awareness of the issue. (For the full text of the bill, click here, search for H.R. 20 and click on the third version of the bill.)

According to the Associated Press, up to 80 percent of women suffer from what the bill refers to as "baby blues," defined as "mood swings, feelings of being overwhelmed and irritability." For about 10 to 20 percent of new mothers, these postpartum depression symptoms are more severe, and can happen any time during the first year of a baby's life. And then there are the unfortunate mothers who suffer from postpartum psychosis, which the AP says strikes about one in 1,000 new mothers, and can make you "lose touch with reality" and experience "delusions, auditory hallucinations, paranoia and hyperactivity." For these poor people, having a baby makes their minds behave like they're on drugs. It makes sense, then, to figure out why the hell this stuff is going on.

The bill passed 382-3 and is on its way to the Senate. A bipartisan triumph for an important issue that trumps party lines, right? Unfortunately, no. Thanks to pressure from representatives like Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., an antiabortion leader, the bill also says that it is the "sense of Congress" that the bill's funds might also be used to fund a longitudinal study during fiscal years 2008 through 2018 to look at the "relative mental health consequences for women of resolving a pregnancy (intended and unintended) in various ways, including carrying the pregnancy to term and parenting the child, carrying the pregnancy to term and placing the child for adoption, miscarriage, and having an abortion." Note that this is not a requirement -- just Congress' "sense" of what it could be used for -- but still. It's changing the bill from one whose goal is to figure out why women suffer from postpartum depression (whether that depression is caused by hormonal shifts following an actual birth, abortion or miscarriage) into one that tries to figure out whether abortions cause more depression than giving birth.

Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to understand the causes behind the depression some women experience after abortions. But it seems clear to me that if the bill's funds are actually used for this longitudinal study, the goal will be political, not scientific. The $3 million is not a particularly large amount of money to begin with. It'd be nice if it could be used for its original purpose.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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