Health

This Study Should End The Debate About Whether Women Regret Having Abortions

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

According to a new study that tracked hundreds of women who had abortions, more than 95 percent of participants reported that ending a pregnancy was the right decision for them. Feelings of relief outweighed any negative emotions, even three years after the procedure.

Researchers examined both women who had first-trimester abortions and women who had procedures after that point (which are often characterized as “late-term abortions”). When it came to women’s emotions following the abortion, or their opinions about whether or not it was the right choice, they didn’t find any meaningful difference between the two groups.

These findings contradict the notion that women experience negative mental health effects after ending a pregnancy, as well as the idea that later abortions are more psychologically traumatic.

Though there’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that abortion is linked to a greater risk of mental health problems, this framework is often used to justify passing additional restrictions on the procedure. Seven states, for instance, have mandatory counseling laws that require pregnant women to receive information about abortion’s negative psychological consequences before they’re allowed to proceed. Some of those materials specifically reference “postabortion traumatic stress syndrome,” a supposed disorder that isn’t recognized by the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association.

The new study was spearheaded by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, or ANSIRH, a think tank based at the University of California, San Francisco that’s conducting extensive research on women’s experiences attempting to obtain abortion care. The findings related to women’s emotions after abortion are part of ANSIRH’s “Turnaway Study,” which is following nearly 1,000 women who sought abortions in 21 different states. According to the group, this represents the “first U.S. study to follow women obtaining abortions and women denied abortions over time.”

The findings build on previous data from the ongoing Turnaway Study that’s supported the same conclusions about mental health and abortion. In 2013, the researchers published the results from interviews conducted just one week after women had an abortion; at that point, too, the vast majority of women said they felt it was the right choice for them. The most common emotion they reported was relief.

External factors can influence the emotions that women experience after an abortion, according to the ANSIRH researchers. They found that women who ended a pregnancy that was planned — which typically occurs after they discover serious fetal health defects — reported more negative emotions, as did women who perceived more abortion stigma in their community. Women with more social support, meanwhile, reported fewer negative emotions.

Nonetheless, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for women to make their own decisions about ending a pregnancy. Over the past five years, states have enacted nearly 300 separate abortion restrictions, many of which drive up the price of the procedure in significant ways. According to a Brookings Institute report released this past spring, that’s partly why low-income women are less likely to be able to obtain an abortion and instead go on to give birth — the very dynamic that the Turnaway Study hopes to investigate further.