The question of women’s mental health has long been at the center of the abortion conversation, namely that the procedure will negatively impact women.
This, in addition to the political policing of female bodily autonomy and sexuality, lead to legislation requiring pre-abortion counseling in 17 U.S. states, nine of which include “long-term mental health consequences for the woman.”
According to a new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers found that women who were denied the right to have an abortion experienced greater mental health consequences than women who were able to access the procedure.
The study observed 956 women over a five-year period. These women were recruited between 2008 and 2010, and represent individuals who had attempted — successfully or not — to receive abortion care. Women were recruited from 30 different abortion clinics in 21 states across the country.
Results from the study showed that women who were denied access to the procedure reported higher rates of anxiety symptoms, lower self-esteem, lower life satisfaction, and depression. These symptoms were reported in the week after women were turned away.
“This event is clearly a difficult one, but regardless of the resolution, mental health improves over time,” Dr. Diana Greene Foster, who co-authored the study, told the Cut.
“At the time we started, there was a lot of debate and very little data about the actual mental-health consequences from abortion.” Foster added, “There was a public dialogue that abortion hurt women, but not much evidence, and even the best of studies didn’t have a comparison group.”
The study proves that legislation mandating pre-abortion counseling and the argument that is pervasive among the anti-abortion community that the “procedure causes long-term psychological harm” has no basis.
“So much of our debate is ideology with no factual reference to real women’s experiences,” Foster said. “What this study does is give an objective look at what real women making this decision and living their lives experience
An earlier study from the American Psychological Association found that women seeking abortions experienced mental anxieties not because of the procedure itself, but because of the stigma associated with it.
Per the Guttmacher Institute:
Evidence shows that the stigma that a woman may feel because she believes that her partner, family or community will condemn or ostracize her for having an abortion—the stigma that antiabortion activists have worked for decades to promote—is itself a key driver of negative mental health outcomes.
On the other hand, most women report feelings of relief and happiness after receiving the procedure. Perhaps women should have the right to make their own health care decisions after all.