Women denied an abortion suffer worse mental health outcomes than those who have one, study says

Researchers say that counselling should not be mandatory before an abortion and should instead be left up to choice. Getty Images

Women who are denied abortions are more likely to suffer from negative psychological symptoms than women who have actually had the procedure done, a new study has found.

According to the study published in JAMA Psychiatry, women who were denied abortions because their pregnancies were too far along reported stress and anxiety – but it was short-lived and it didn’t matter if they delivered the baby or sought the procedure elsewhere.

“There are policies and decisions being made with this assumption that abortion harms women’s mental health [in the U.S.],” Antonia Biggs, the study’s author and social psychologist researcher at University of California, told Time. “We found that the women who were denied abortions had more anxiety, lower self esteem and less life satisfaction compared to women who [obtained them initially].”
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Researchers on the project assessed the psychological well-being of 956 women with an average age of 25 across 21 states over a five-year period. These women were either denied an abortion or received one.

The women were interviewed one week after their request for an abortion, and then semi-annually for the following five years.

After the first week, those who were denied abortions reported having more symptoms of anxiety, lower self-esteem and lower life satisfaction but had similar levels of depression as women who had received an abortion. Over time, these negative emotions improved.

“Those differences disappear after six months to a year,” Biggs says to Reuters.

(Researchers focused on these particular symptoms because advocacy groups and legislators often claim women experience them after a performed abortion.)

READ MORE: Abortion rights advocates launch campaign for increased access in New Brunswick

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 35 U.S. states require women receive counselling before undergoing an abortion.

Of those 35 states, nine are required to counsel women on the possible negative psychological and emotional effects they could experience as a result of the procedure.

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Some of those states include Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma. and Texas, Forbes reports.

“This research shows the information [policy makers] are mandating women receive [is] inaccurate and out of date,” Biggs tells Reuters. “We don’t have evidence that abortion leads women to have worse mental health.”

She adds, “It’s true that we haven’t had great evidence looking at this particular question before. Now that we do, we should really go back and think about the information we’re giving women and making sure it’s accurate and up-to-date.”

Another 2016 study out of the University of California found that women who choose to have an abortion tend to be more certain of their choice – even after the procedure is done.

“Our finding directly challenges the idea that decision-making on abortion is somehow exceptional and requires additional protection, such as state laws that mandate waiting periods or targeted counseling and whose stated purpose is to prevent women from making an unconsidered decision,” Lauren Ralph, lead author of the study, told Reuters. 

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READ MORE: Ohio passes ‘heartbeat bill,’ banning abortions after 20 weeks

The latest study comes at a time when abortion clinics across the U.S. are rapidly closing their doors, and abortion and anti-abortion laws are being challenged.

The Guttmacher Institute calculates that 231 abortion restrictions have been enacted by state lawmakers between 2011 and 2014.

Over the course of his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump promised to nominate a Supreme Court judge with anti-abortion views and to overturn Roe v. Wade.

In Canada, getting counselling before an abortion is not mandated by government. However some clinics (like the Morgentaler Clinics) require mandatory sessions before the procedure takes place, according to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. Other clinics simply offer the services should women choose to use them.

In 2014, the Canadian Institute for Health Information reported 81,897 abortion procedures were performed in Canada; a decrease of about two per cent from the previous year.


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