The largest, most comprehensive study has us asking: is this age-old anti-abortion argument bogus?
The idea that women will experience intense emotional trauma following an abortion is a common one—nine states even currently require a sort of counseling on the emotional and psychological effects of abortion before the procedure, according to Guttmacher Institute. But the latest study should put that myth to bed.
Though the link between abortions and mental health has been investigated in the past, new, very comprehensive research called the Turnaway Study just concluded that having an abortion doesn't have a long-term adverse effect on a woman's psychological health, as published by the Journal of American Medicine.
Researchers followed almost 1,000 women across 21 different states in the U.S. after the women had an abortion or were denied an abortion because they were too far along in their pregnancy. (FYI here's what you need to know about when you can have an abortion.) They assessed the women's mental well-being through phone interviews done every six months, starting eight days after the abortion/denial date and spanning a total of five years.
Their main finding: Abortion does not increase your risk of experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, or of experiencing lower self-esteem or life satisfaction, even up to five years post-abortion.
What does have a negative effect on mental health, according to the study? Being denied for an abortion. Compared with the women who were able to have abortions, women who were turned away reported higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction immediately after. (Want to know what else happens when you restrict access to abortions? More and more women try to DIY .) The good news: These symptoms quickly improved, and leveled out with the other women about six to 12 months after the experience.
It's worth noting that the biggest predictor of mental health issues (whether they had the abortion or were turned away) had nothing to do with the abortion. The most significant factors associated with worse psychological well-being are a history of mental health conditions and traumatic life experiences (such as child abuse and neglect). (Here are 10 common abortion questions, answered.)
One caveat: the researchers didn't evaluate the mental health of the women before they became pregnant or before the abortion/denial experience (the first interview happened one week later). So it would be misleading to say that the whole unplanned pregnancy situation (whether they aborted it or not) had zero mental or emotional effect on these women.
"The experience of an unintended pregnancy may cause women to contend with their circumstances and reflect on their lives," the researchers write in the study. "When relationships and financial situations are thought to be insufficient to support a pregnancy, this feeling of deficiency, rather than the decision to abort or the procedure itself, may be the cause of lowered mental health indicators."
Imagine your 17-year-old self getting pregnant by mistake—just thinking about it probably gave you a surge of anxiety. The important takeaway from this study, however, is that being denied an abortion seems to be more detrimental to women's psychological well-being than actually getting the abortion.
While previous research has concluded the same, we're happy to hear a little positive news when it comes to women's mental health during such a tough time.