A common argument against legalized abortion is that the procedure can have dire consequences for the psychological health of women who undergo it. Anti-abortion advocates have attempted to link having an abortion to increased risk of a variety of mental-health issues, from anxiety disorders to depression to substance abuse, and even coined a term, “post-abortion syndrome,” for a range of those symptoms in 1981. Partly as a result of this belief, seven states have laws mandating that women undergo counseling about the negative psychological effects before getting an abortion.
A new study in the journal PLOS One, however, casts some serious doubt on this line of thinking. The researchers, led by Corinne H. Rocca of UC San Fransisco’s School of Medicine, followed 667 women in two groups (those who had procedures in the first trimester and those who had them within two weeks of the facilities’ gestational limit) from 30 different facilities over a three-year period, regularly surveying them on how they felt about their decision. The women, 25 years old on average and from a diverse set of backgrounds, were asked what their reasons were for making the choice to terminate the pregnancy, whether they still felt it was the right one, and what emotions it evoked in them.
While some respondents had lingering feelings of guilt and regret in the immediate aftermath of the procedure, researchers found that after three years, an overwhelming majority — around 95 percent — of respondents felt the decision to terminate their pregnancies was the right one. Around 40 percent cited financial considerations as the primary reason they decided to terminate a pregnancy, while 36 percent said it “was not the right time” for them to have a baby. There was no difference between the first-trimester group and the later one in terms of emotional outcomes.
As Jezebel notes, controlling for other factors, the respondents most likely to express regret and report psychological trauma were those who thought “they would be looked down upon by people in their communities if they knew they had sought an abortion.” That is, those who felt stigmatized and lacked social support fared the worst — suggesting that these factors had a more significant effect on how women felt about their decision to terminate a pregnancy than the procedure itself.