Updated 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Abortion doesn't harm women's mental health

Anti-choice supporters have argued for years that women who obtain an abortion suffer from emotional and psychological trauma as a result.

Now, a new, large University of California, San Francisco, study of more than 1,000 women seeking abortions reports that women are much more emotionally stressed if they are denied an abortion initially than if they received one upon request.

Researchers discovered that eight days after seeking an abortion, only women who were denied an abortion said they had “significantly more” symptoms of anxiety, lower self-esteem, and life satisfaction than those who received an abortion.

According to Tamar Gur, M.D., Ph.D., a women's health expert and reproductive psychiatrist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, some women have abortions because they can’t afford a child, don’t have social or relationship support, have health problems that would make it difficult to care for a baby, or already have children and can’t afford to have more. Still others choose to terminate a wanted pregnancy because the fetus had genetic abnormalities and wouldn’t survive or would have a poor quality of life. However, she adds, patients who obtain an abortion for a wanted pregnancy say the most stressful part was the obstacles they had to face to get the procedure.

“Having to go through the protestors, all the red tape that the states have put in place, and being forced to watch videos against their will, those are the things I’ve heard from patients that were more distressing than the actual procedure itself,” she says. “It’s really heartbreaking and disgusting.”

The new study, published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, is one of the first major trials to respond to a request from the U.S. surgeon general in 1989 for more rigorous research into women’s mental-health outcomes after abortion. Dr. C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general at the time, said the 250 studies he reviewed on the issue were methodologically flawed, and he recommended a five-year prospective study be done.

The trial cannot confirm what influences a woman’s emotional response to abortion. Rather, this study, considered the most comprehensive of its kind, suggests that the assumption that abortion can cause psychological suffering is faulty.

The researchers also conclude that there’s no evidence to justify laws requiring women seeking abortions to be warned about negative mental and emotional side effects. “Women should trust their own decisions, be empowered to do what’s best for them,” says study author M. Antonia Biggs. “If our goal is to protect women’s health, the evidence suggests that expanding access is the best approach.”

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