Abortion Has No Long-Term Negative Effects on Women's Mental Health, Study Finds

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, December 19, 2016 | Go to article overview

Abortion Has No Long-Term Negative Effects on Women's Mental Health, Study Finds


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


Study after study has found no evidence that having an abortion leads to depression or other negative mental health outcomes, and the few studies that have suggested such outcomes have been shown to have serious scientific flaws.

Yet that hasn't stopped nine states -- Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Caroline, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia -- from passing laws requiring women seeking an abortion to be counseled before an abortion that the procedure can lead to long-term psychological problems, including "feelings of grief, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, regret, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of emotional attachment, flashbacks, and substance abuse" (according to one Texas brochure).

In other words, the counselors must lie.

A new study published late last week in the journal JAMA Psychiatry -- one that followed women for a full five years after they had either received or been denied an abortion -- underscores the scope of that lie. It found that women who had an abortion were no more likely to develop psychological problems than those who tried to get an abortion but were denied one and ended up giving birth.

In fact, women in the study who were denied an abortion reported, on average, more depression and anxiety during the first six to 12 months after receiving the denial than did the women who wanted and underwent the procedure.

"These findings do not support policies that restrict women's access to abortion on the basis that abortion harms women's mental health," conclude the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) researchers who conducted the study.

Study details

For the study, the UCSF researchers used five years of data from the Turnaway Study, a prospective longitudinal study designed to determine the effects of unintended pregnancy on women's lives. The data was collected from 956 women (average age: 25) from 30 different abortion clinics in 21 states between January 2008 and December 2010.

The women fell into three categories: 1) women (273) who received an abortion in the first trimester (12 weeks) of pregnancy; 2) women (452) who sought an abortion up to two weeks under a facility's gestational limit (which ranged from 10 weeks through the end of the second trimester) and were able to receive one; and 3) women (231) who sought an abortion up to three weeks past a facility's gestational limit and were turned away without receiving an abortion. The "turnaway" group were furthered divided into those who eventually gave birth (161) and those who later miscarried or had an abortion elsewhere (70).

There were no significant differences among the three groups of women in terms of their educational level, martial status, mental health history or prior drug or alcohol use -- factors that might affect their psychological health. The study, therefore, was able to compare two similar groups of women whose main differentiating characteristic was whether they succeeded or failed to obtain a wanted abortion. And it was able to follow them for a significant period of time.

That hadn't been done before.

Key findings

The women were interviewed on the phone 11 times: eight days after having or being denied an abortion, and then every six months for five years. The questions they were asked included ones designed to assess their mental health.

About 5 percent of the 956 women were "lost" to the study at the time of each interview. …

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