Study Finds That Restricting Abortion Access, Not Abortion, Leads to Greater Mental Health Problems for Women
It's time to demolish the incorrect notion that lingering mental health problems are common for women who have abortions; instead, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women who are denied abortion access are more likely to experience anxiety and low self-esteem than women who successfully have the procedure.
For five years, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) surveyed nearly 1,000 women visiting abortion providers among 21 states as part of a comprehensive study conducted by the university's Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program. Of the 30 clinics represented in the study, gestational limits ranged from 10 weeks to the end of the second trimester. Researchers contacted participants eight days after they either had an abortion or were denied the procedure, and then followed up with them every sixth months for the next five years.
Those who had an abortion did not report higher rates of depression or other mental health issues in the days immediately following the procedure, but those who were denied an abortion because of a clinic's gestational limits had lower self-esteem and higher rates of anxiety. "We found no evidence that women who have abortions risk developing depression, anxiety or low self-esteem as a result of the abortion, either immediately following, or for up to five years after the abortion," M. Antonia Biggs, Ph.D., a social psychologist at UCSF and lead author on the publication, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Women who were denied an abortion had more anxiety and lower self-esteem immediately after being turned away." Biggs noted that as the study continued, most participants' mental health stabilized, whether or not they were able to obtain an abortion, adding, "However, over the subsequent five years, symptoms of anxiety and depression decreased and self-esteem and life satisfaction improved significantly, both for women who received an abortion and for women who were denied care."
Katie Watson, a bioethicist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who was not affiliated with the research, attributed this to the participants' ability to adapt to their daily circumstances. "What I think is incredibly interesting is how everyone kind of evens out together at six months to a year," Watson told The New York Times. "What this study tells us about is resilience and people making the best of their circumstances and moving on. What’s sort of a revelation is the ordinariness of it." Though anti-abortion advocates have long argued that women who have abortions are more susceptible to mental health problems, the results of the recent JAMA study indicate that this is not the case.
This is not the first study to reach this conclusion; findings published by the Guttmacher Institute in 2010 and 2013 corroborate evidence that abortion does not have adverse affects on mental health. This has not stopped pro-life lawmakers from attempting to spread this myth and mandate that women seeking abortions are given repeatedly-disproven information ahead of their procedure. Earlier this month, Texas published an updated edition of its "A Woman's Right to Know" pamphlet that falsely links abortion to depression, as well as an increased risk of breast cancer (a suggestion that has also been refuted).
Texas is not alone in abortion inaccuracies; within the 22 other state booklets published in the U.S., nearly one-third of the printed information is incorrect. "There is no evidence to justify laws that require women seeking abortion to be forewarned about negative psychological responses," the researchers concluded. "Women considering abortion are best served by being provided with the most accurate, scientific information available to help them make their pregnancy decisions. These findings suggest that the effects of being denied an abortion may be more detrimental to women’s psychological well-being than allowing women to obtain their wanted procedures."
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