How does abortion – or being denied an abortion – affect mental health? Experts explain.
For years, anti-abortion rights activists have argued that abortion is harmful to a person’s mental health. But despite this argument appearing time and time again in social media and politics, research shows that this is not the case – in fact, it may be quite the opposite.
A recent study published in the Archives of Women’s Mental Health analyzed data from 7,162 women who had an unplanned pregnancy within the past year. The study’s researchers found that “psychological stress was lowest for wanting to have children and higher for abortion, adoption and unintended births.” However, the study found that “abortion was associated with lower distress scores compared to adoption and unintended births. Adoption and unwanted births exhibited higher levels of distress compared to wanted children.”
Meaning, the best case scenario for an unplanned pregnancy is when someone has the child they want. Beyond that, those who did not want to get pregnant and either kept the child or gave it up for adoption were more distressed than those who received an abortion.
Research also shows that many women do not regret their abortions five years later – but many opponents of abortion believe they do. a 2020 study looked at the feelings and emotions of 667 women who had abortions and found “no evidence of negative emotions or regret of the decision to have an abortion” five years later. The study found “no evidence of negative feelings or regret of the decision to have an abortion” five years later. Researchers noted that both positive and negative feelings about abortion declined in the first two years after a woman had an abortion, and then stabilized. “Decision correctness remained high and stable,” they added.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, “there is still no conclusive evidence that abortion is directly related to subsequent mental health problems.”
However, the inability to have a desired abortion can affect mental health. The University of California, San Francisco’s Turnaway Study, a longitudinal study designed to examine the impact of unwanted pregnancies on women’s lives, likewise found that refusal of abortion can harm women’s mental health and financial well-being. The study found that women who were denied an abortion and had to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term were four times more likely to live below the federal poverty line. The study found that women who were forced to have an unplanned pregnancy were also more likely to feel anxiety and loss of self-esteem after being denied an abortion.
On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a landmark ruling that guaranteed abortion rights in the United States. Currently, 58 percent of American women ages 13 to 44 live in states that are hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights, putting many women at risk of being denied an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
“People seek abortions for many reasons ranging from concerns about their ability to support their children and other dependents financially and emotionally, suggesting that abortion is often a decision driven by women’s concerns about current and future children, families, and existing commitments and responsibilities,” Antonia Biggs, associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco and social psychologist advancing new standards of reproductive health, told Yahoo Life. “We found that when people were able to get the abortion they wanted, they described mainly positive emotions, most often relief, and more than 95 percent described abortion as the right decision shortly after and up to five years after the abortion. “
Biggs also noted that ” people who want an abortion are not at greater risk of experiencing adverse mental health outcomes than those who are denied an abortion.”
Restricting abortion is detrimental to mental health, Dr. Cassy Friedrich, a California family medicine physician and psychiatrist as well as a physician with reproductive health, told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Lack of autonomy over one’s pregnancy choices can cause unnecessary suffering to pregnant women and those who are able to conceive,” she said. “Studies show that people who have abortions experience less suffering than those who have unplanned births, and I consistently see patients who directly reflect the findings.”
According to 2022 statement Frank C. Worrell, then president of the American Psychological Association, “Rigorous, long-term psychological research clearly shows that people who are denied abortions are more likely to experience higher levels of anxiety, lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem than Those who were able to obtain an abortion. In addition, no studies have shown that abortion is the cause of subsequent mental health diagnoses.”
However, Biggs noted that the pain of being denied an abortion goes beyond being forced to carry a pregnancy to full term. “Our study found from the Burden Study that facing multiple barriers to accessing abortion care leads to forced disclosure of the abortion decision to unsupportive people,” she said. “We found that facing barriers in accessing abortion care and being forced to tell people about an abortion was associated with more symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress . “
But Friedrich points out that it’s not just mental health that’s at stake. “Pregnancy is medically risky, and people should be able to decide for themselves whether to take that risk,” she says. Biggs agrees. “The results of the Turnaway study suggest that people who refuse abortions are more likely to experience financial insecurity that lasts for years and extends to their children and have poor relationships with their babies than those who are able to have the abortions they want,” Biggs said. “Forced births also lead to more adverse physical health and birth outcomes.”
The doctor stresses the importance of people knowing the facts about the mental health effects of abortion. “I want people to understand that abortion does not negatively affect a person’s mental health,” Friedrich said. “The lack of access to abortion and the stigma of abortion does have a profoundly negative impact on the mental health of pregnant women and those who are able to conceive.”