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Curmudgeonitis

My wife tells me from time to time that I am something of a curmudgeon; she may be right. I do not think that has always been true, but of late I do find myself with less patience than I once had. I was reminded of the deficit when reading Barun Singh’s article in Tuesday’s The Tech. In his time at MIT, Barun has generally been a class act so it was with a bit of sadness that I note he has been infected with curmudgeonitis. When this malady shows itself in one so youthful, I recommend immediate therapy.

Part of the cure depends on noticing how resistant to change the MIT community is. For a band of creative risk-takers, we are remarkably vulnerable to nostalgia. Nothing is ever as good as when we were younger, or is as good as MIT was when we first arrived. Nostalgia always has a germ of truth, but it is only a germ. A community is a work in progress; change happens and it is not always what we would have done or encouraged. That does not mean the new is bad but only that we would have done it differently. Now what? Rather than dismissing change in worship of a long ago Eden, the key to the future is continued engagement that is both critical and civil and that may involve recognizing that sometimes what we are most critical of is what is most needed.

This is a remarkably different place than it was 10 years ago. The community looks different as we move toward gender balance; the landscape is far more welcoming, buildings shine. Creativity abounds and a sense of mutual care is evidenced everywhere you turn. I might not have made all the changes I see and sense, but then no curmudgeon worth his feathers would admit to endorsing change.

Robert M. Randolph is the chaplain to the Institute and the housemaster of Bexley Hall.

Abortions and mental health

Georgina Botka’s May 4 letter to The Tech was riddled with factual inaccuracies.

Most reputable studies and meta-analyses investigating the links between abortion and mental health have not found that abortion causes mental health problems. Studies that have found a link have failed to properly control for confounding variables, such as a woman’s history of prior mental health problems or sexual assault. The American Psychiatric Association’s task force on abortion found no evidence that abortion is harmful to a woman’s mental health, and an earlier APA report stated that “severe negative reactions are rare and are in line with those following other normal life stresses.” Most experts agree. Botka cites a meta-analysis by Priscilla Coleman to claim that abortion causes “an 81% increased risk of mental health problems.” This study has been widely criticized by other experts, and researchers using the same data set have been unable to replicate Coleman’s results.

Botka cites a “survey conducted by the Elliot Institute” to claim that “most rape victims do not actually want abortions.” In fact, the 75–85 percent statistic comes from Sandra Makhorn’s 1979 study of only 37 women. Studies by respected organizations like the Guttmacher Institute have consistently found that about half of unintended pregnancies end in abortion; it is unlikely that fewer than half of rape victims would desire abortions.

Botka also claims that “research shows that most of those who do choose abortion … regret their decision, while all who choose to carry their pregnancy to term are happy they did.” The book she cites consists of rape survivors telling their stories; while these women’s voices are important and should be heard, they are not evidence for how “most” rape victims feel.

Regarding physical health risks, most abortions are considered very low-risk. Eighty-eight percent of abortions take place in the first trimester, and only 1.5 percent of these result in serious immediate complications. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that “the long-term safety of surgical abortion in the first trimester is well-established”, and finds that drug-induced abortions are equally safe. Later-term abortions are riskier, but overall, only 0.3% of abortions result in complications that require hospitalization. Of course, childbirth also comes with health risks, which vary significantly between pregnancies.

Botka claims that abortion is associated with increased rates of cervical, ovarian, and liver cancer. I could not find a study confirming this, but did find a study from the Journal of Gynecologic Oncology that found that incomplete pregnancies were associated with a small decreased risk of ovarian cancer. A study in The Lancet found the same for cervical cancer.

Some of the research on the effects of abortion is inaccurate and politicized; it is possible to find statistics supporting almost any position. Readers should carefully examine studies’ methodologies before drawing conclusions, and The Tech should do a better job fact-checking the letters it publishes.

Elizabeth W. Santorella ’13