The most commonly reported sensation following an abortion is not pain. It feels good. Several studies have found this to be true.
However, there is an assumption that abortions cause trauma when, in fact, they can be a way for those who do not want to be pregnant to resolve stress. Both experts and research have concluded that the procedure does not increase the likelihood of negative mental health outcomes. It’s the trauma of being denied one that does it, a well-studied but little-discussed phenomenon.
The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, erasing reproductive rights that had been in place for nearly five decades. The landmark decision means that Americans no longer have a constitutional right to abortion, and Republican lawmakers plan to outlaw abortion in roughly half of the states.
However, experts in sexual and mental health warn that this decision will not reduce trauma and suffering. And it may aggravate the situation.
Despite widespread belief that people who have abortions suffer from guilt, regret, and even depression, research shows that the stakes are higher for those who are denied an abortion.
Researchers tracked the experiences of women who received abortions and those who were denied due to gestational age limits in a 10-year study. They discovered that having an abortion did not increase one’s chances of developing anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
However, some have criticized the study’s methodology. Michael New, a research associate of political science and social research at the Catholic University of America, notes that the study tracked participants’ responses for five years, which he believes is insufficient, stating that feelings of regret can manifest “even years after an abortion has occurred.”
A meta-analysis conducted by Dr. Priscilla Coleman discovered a casual link between abortion, suicidality, and drug use. Opponents, however, have criticized that conclusion, claiming that it failed to account for mental health issues prior to the abortion.
Furthermore, additional research has shown that post-abortion mental health is more strongly associated with outside factors other than the abortion itself. These include a lack of social support, personality traits such as low self-esteem, and a history of mental health problems. And, according to a recent UC San Francisco study, more than 95% of women said abortion was the right decision for them.
These studies, according to Amanda Fialk, a licensed clinical social worker and the chief clinical officer at The Dorm, are frequently overshadowed by the widely held belief that abortion causes mental instability.
So far, the effects of these misconceptions can be seen in Texas, where one of the country’s previously most restrictive abortion laws prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Kumar, who works in Houston, says he has already seen the beginning of a “devastating impact” in the last year.
Unwanted pregnancies, according to the American Psychological Association, can have mental health consequences such as lower self-esteem and increased anxiety. Women seeking abortions face misogynist criticism in addition to physical and psychological symptoms.
However, with the official repeal of Roe v. Wade, experts predict that people will have to worry about finding childcare during mandatory waiting periods, taking time off for work, and affording lodging and travel expenses — assuming they can get an appointment at all.
These laws also contribute to the existing structural stigma that abortion is immoral, shameful, and should not be discussed. Experts warn that this can lead to people internalizing these beliefs, resulting in psychological distress and social isolation.
Even with all of the recent talk about abortions, we frequently forget what the procedure should entail.
According to experts, it doesn’t take much; all you need is access to a provider who respects your decision, confidentiality, and autonomy — just like any other medical procedure.
Kumar adds that it is his priority to give his patients as much control and autonomy over their bodies and futures as possible.
These simple measures, according to mental health experts, can prevent the physical risks of a self-managed abortion as well as the various stressors of an unwanted pregnancy.