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British Medical JournalRow Over Medical Journal’s Refusal to Retract Paper Used to Restrict Abortion in US Legal Cases

In US legal disputes, a heavily criticized article from a British publication has been used to limit access to abortion. Insiders at the journal attempted to get the publication retracted, but were unsuccessful, which sparked a debate regarding editorial independence.

Tensions rise in the medical and legal community over the British Journal of Psychiatry‘s refusal to retract a contentious paper on abortion. The paper, under scrutiny for questionable methodology and conclusions, has found its way into US legal cases that aim to restrict access to abortion, fueling further debate.

Key Points:

  • The paper, published in 2011 by Priscilla K. Coleman, claims that women who underwent abortions had an 81% higher risk of mental health problems.
  • Despite criticisms and calls for retraction from the scientific community, the British Journal of Psychiatry and its owner, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, decided not to retract the paper.
  • Three international board members resigned from the journal over this decision.
  • The paper has been cited in at least 20 US legal cases restricting access to abortion and has significantly influenced abortion-related policy.

Additional Points:

  • Legal fears may have influenced the decision not to retract the paper. The author threatened legal action, and the journal faced a potential lack of comprehensive legal cover for lawsuits filed in North America.
  • Critics argue that the journal’s credibility and editorial independence are at stake, with potential implications for the reliability of future publications.
  • The refusal to retract the paper despite methodological issues raises concerns about the influence of non-scientific factors in scientific publication decisions.


  • The refusal to retract the paper points to an alarming interplay between science, politics, and law. It underlines the importance of maintaining rigorous scientific standards and editorial independence in medical journals to avoid potential misuse of research findings in shaping legal and policy decisions.

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“This isn’t the way to settle science. I find it really unfortunate and scary that the legal system is sometimes drawn on in this way . . . Every decision about whether an article should be retracted should always be based on scientific considerations, and any aberration from that is a real disservice to the public.”

Chelsea Polis
Senior Scientist of Epidemiology
Center for Biomedical Research at the Population Council
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