Reardon describes his position on abortion as both "pro-life" (believing a human fetus is deserving of protection) and "pro-woman" and "anti-abortion" (believing abortion hurts women). In a 2002 article in Ethics & Medicine, Reardon argued that in order to be effective, pro-life efforts had to present "a moral vision that consistently demonstrates just as much concern for women as for their unborn children." Reardon appealed to the pro-life movement to support his "pro-woman/pro-life" strategy writing:
For the purpose of passing restrictive laws to protect women from unwanted and/or dangerous abortions, it does not matter if people have a pro-life view. The ambivalent majority of people who are willing to tolerate abortion in “some cases” are very likely to support informed consent legislation and abortion clinic regulations, for example, because these proposals are consistent with their desire to protect women. In some cases, it is not even necessary to convince people of abortion’s dangers. It is sufficient to simply raise enough doubts about abortion that they will refuse to actively oppose the proposed anti-abortion initiative. In other words, if we can convince many of those who do not see abortion to be a “serious moral evil” that they should support anti-abortion policies that protect women and reduce abortion rates, that is a sufficiently good end to justify NRS efforts. Converting these people to a pro-life view, where they respect life rather than simply fear abortion, is a second step. The latter is another good goal, but it is not necessary to the accomplishment of other good goals, such as the passage of laws that protect women from dangerous abortions and thereby dramatically reduce abortion rates.
Reardon's findings conflict with the view of the American Psychological Association, as well as other scientists and researchers, that abortion carries no greater mental-health risk than carrying a fetus to term.
In a front-page story for the New York Times Magazine, Slate editor Emily Bazelon described the growth of post-abortion counseling ministries around the United States as part of an effort by the pro-life movement to outlaw abortion by stressing its purported psychological effects. She describes Reardon as arguing that the pro-life movement will "never win over a majority... by asserting the sanctity of fetal life", and therefore should focus on disseminating information that abortion is psychologically harmful to women as a more effective strategy.
Bazelon goes on to say:
For anti-abortion activists, this strategy offers distinct advantages. It challenges the connection between access to abortion and women's rights — if women are suffering because of their abortions, then how could making the procedure readily available leave women better off? It replaces mute pictures of dead fetuses with the voices of women who narrate their stories in raw detail and who claim they can move legislators to tears. And it trades condemnation for pity and forgiveness. “Pro-lifers who say, ‘I don’t understand how anyone could have an abortion,’ are blind to how hurtful this statement can be,” Reardon writes on his Web site. “A more humble pro-life attitude would be to say, ‘Who am I to throw stones at others?’
When researchers attack his findings, Reardon writes to the journals’ letters pages. “Even if pro-abortionists got five paragraphs explaining that abortion is safe and we got only one line saying it's dangerous, the seed of doubt is planted,” he wrote in his book.
Reardon has been described in the Boston Globe as someone who "wants Congress to impose strict barriers to abortion." The Boston Globe also wrote:
This dual role of advocate/researcher is becoming more common, especially as advocacy groups realize they can sway more opinions by asserting that their research is based on science, rather than simply on personal belief. [David] Reardon, like many people who play this dual role, insists he can objectively look at the data without being influenced by his personal viewpoint.
According to the website of the Elliot Institute, which Reardon founded, he is "a frequent guest on Christian radio and Christian television talk shows and has been a frequently invited speaker state and national conventions for crisis pregnancy centers and pro-life organizations. Reardon addressed the National Pro-Life Religious Council in 1998, where he discussed emotional reactions to abortion in the context of the disputed entity of "post-abortion syndrome".
Reardon is the founder and director of the Elliot Institute, which in 2005 reported that it had two full-time and one part-time employees. According to its web site, the Elliot Institute studies "the effects of eugenics, abortion, population control, and sexual attitudes and practices on individuals and society at large. The Institute was described by USA Today as an "anti-abortion organization focusing on the physical and psychological effects of abortion."
The Elliot Institute has endorsed model legislation regarding informed consent provisions for women considering abortion and bills that would increase the liablity of physicians who provide abortions that are deemed "unsafe or unnecessary". The Elliot Institute is also leading an effort to build a coalition of groups to advocate for laws that would create a preemptive ban on human genetic engineering.
Reardon and the Elliot Institute opposed The Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, and proposed a competing initiative which would have prohibited any embryonic stem cell research which resulted in the destruction of a human embryo, as well as some other types of genetic research, in Missouri. The Elliot institute created the website ElliotInstitute.org which mimicked the site of a pro-stem-cell-research group, the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures. The group sued the Elliot Institute in federal court for alleged copyright and trademark violations. Consequently, the Elliot Institute website was ordered temporarily shut down by a federal judge.
Aborted Women, Silent No More
Making Abortion Rare
The Jericho Plan - Breaking Down the Walls Which Prevent Post-Abortion Healing
Victims and Victors - Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault
Rape, Incest and Abortion - Searching Beyond the Myths
Taking Abortion Seriously - A philosophical critique of the new anti-abortion rhetorical shift
Reardon's peer reviewed studies are a source of scientific controversy. His research and methodology have been criticized by, among others, Brenda Major of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Nancy Russo, a psychology professor at Arizona State University.
The following is a partial list of some of Reardon's articles, as well as academic responses to his articles: