The Mental Health Toll Of Being Denied An Abortion

Photographed by Tayler Smith.
One of the most controversial factors behind restricted abortion access is the supposed concern over patients' mental health. In nine states, women seeking abortions are required to undergo counseling about the potentially long-term negative psychological impact of having the procedure. However, according to a new study, there's no need — in fact, it's those who are denied wanted abortions who may suffer the most severe mental health consequences.

For the study, published online today in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers interviewed 956 women one week after the women had tried to get an abortion. The researchers also checked in with the participants, who had been recruited from 30 clinics across 21 states, for another five years to see how their mental health changed.

Of those women, 452 of them were within two weeks of their facility's cutoff date, but did receive an abortion. Another 273 participants received abortions in the first trimester of their pregnancies. And 231 participants were up to three weeks past their facility's cutoff and, therefore, did not receive the procedure. Of those who were turned away, 161 ended up giving birth and 70 did not (either because they miscarried or because they received an abortion elsewhere).

Results showed that in the week immediately after seeking an abortion, those who were turned away were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and lower self-esteem. Those who were denied an abortion and ended up not giving birth had the highest rates of anxiety and depression in the week after going to the clinic.

However, over time, levels of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem eventually evened out across the groups, suggesting that most patients don't suffer any huge, long-lasting psychological effects of being denied — or receiving — an abortion.

"Our study demonstrates that, during a five-year period, women receiving wanted abortions had similar or better mental health outcomes than those who were denied a wanted abortion," the study authors write. "Thus, there is no evidence to justify laws that require women seeking abortion to be forewarned about negative psychological responses."

Instead, the best thing we can do for women considering an abortion is to provide them with helpful, scientifically accurate, nonjudgmental care in order for them to make the best-informed decisions. And then, you know, get out of their way.
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