- It is assumed that abortion procedures cause pain and trauma, but research shows that this is not true.
- Studies have shown that having an abortion does not increase mental health risk: being refused does.
- Experts warn that the overturning of Roe v. Wade will only exacerbate the various stressors of an unwanted pregnancy.
The most commonly reported sensation after an abortion is not pain. It is a relief. This is according to many studies.
But abortions are assumed to cause trauma, when in fact they can be a stress-reliever for those who don’t want to get pregnant. Experts and research have argued that the procedure itself does not increase the risk of negative mental health outcomes. It is rather the trauma of being deprived of it that makes… a widely studied phenomenon that is rarely talked about.
“For many people, abortion is a positive part of their life that allows them to do things like walk away from an abusive partner or have the life and children they have now,” says Gretchen Ely, professor of social work at the University of Tennessee. “They are able to direct themselves in a way that would cause less distress throughout their lives when given the choice to have an abortion.”
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Yet misconceptions continue to fuel arguments for measures like mandatory counseling, waiting periods, and now, the Supreme Court’s potential overturning of Roe v. Wade, which would allow states to make abortion illegal. But sexual and mental health experts warn that if this legislation comes into force, it will not minimize trauma and suffering. And that could make it worse.
“Before these measures, even if people were scared, we could talk to them and support them,” says Bhavik Kumar, a Texas-based provider at Planned Parenthood Center for Choice. “But now I’m hearing new worries about, ‘Where am I supposed to go?’ ‘When can I be seen at the earliest?’
“It’s that uncertainty — the unknown of something so time-sensitive — that triggers a lot of the trauma of abortion. And usually, as providers, we could help them through some of that. But with the reversal of Roe v. Wade, it becomes a lot harder for us to prevent and treat these mental health risks,” Kumar says.
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Being Denied an Abortion Leads to Mental Health Problems
Despite popular assumptions that people who have abortions are plagued by guilt, regret, and even depression, research shows that the stakes are higher for those who are denied abortions.
In a 10-year study, researchers tracked the experiences of women who had abortions and those who were denied due to gestational age limits. They found that having an abortion did not increase the risk of anxiety, depression or PTSD.
“We found very clearly that people who were denied an abortion were at risk for high, short-term levels of stress, anxiety, low self-esteem and lower satisfaction with life. of life”, explains Antonia Biggs, a social psychologist who led the mental health analyzes of the Turnaway Study.
Still, some have criticized the methodology of this study. Michael New, a political science and social research associate at the Catholic University of America, notes that the study tracked participants’ responses over a period of five years, which he says isn’t enough. long, stating that feelings of regret can arise “even years after an abortion has taken place.”
New points to a meta-analysis by Dr. Priscilla Coleman found an occasional link between abortion and suicidality and drug use. However, opponents have criticized this finding, saying it does not take into account mental health issues prior to abortion.
And additional research has also supported that post-abortion mental health is more strongly associated with outside factors that are not unique to the abortion itself. These include low social support, personality factors like low self-esteem, and a history of mental health issues. And according to a recent UC San Francisco study, more than 95% of women said abortion was the right decision for them.
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According to Amanda Fialk, licensed clinical social worker and chief clinical officer at The Dorm, these studies are often overshadowed by the widespread belief that abortion causes mental instability.
“When things are not said accurately in social environments or at home, stories are made up about what the abortion procedure is, what it is not, and a very false narrative is perpetuated. “, says Fialk. “However, people need to be aware that having high barriers to an abortion has far worse mental health impacts. What we do know is that those who are denied abortion have a satisfaction of reduced life compared to those who can access safe abortion.”
So far, the consequences of these misconceptions can be seen in Texas, where one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Last year Kumar, who works in Houston, says he has already witnessed the beginning of a “devastating impact”.
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“When I provide care, there is generally little trauma for those who access care, but there is much more trauma, stress, worry and anxiety for those who are denied one because ‘There’s so much uncertainty,’ says Kumar.
The cost of overthrowing Roe against Wade
Regardless of your age, beliefs, or relationship status, finding out you’re pregnant when you don’t want to is traumatic.
According to the American Psychological Association, unwanted pregnancies can have mental health consequences, such as low self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety. In addition to physical and psychological symptoms, women seeking abortions also tend to bear the brunt of misogynistic criticism.
If Roe v. Wade is cancelled, experts predict people will have to worry about finding child care during mandatory waiting periods, missing work and paying for accommodation and travel expenses i.e. if they are able to get an appointment.
These laws also add to the existing structural stigma that abortion is immoral, shameful and something that should not be talked about. This can lead people to internalize these beliefs and lead to psychological distress and social isolation, experts warn.
“I’ve had young clients call the Roe v. Wade overturning terrifying and out of control,” Fialk says. “Because of these stories, many feel like they are losing their autonomy, their sense of self-determination and feel helpless and devalued as a mere vessel raising a fetus, not as an actual human being.”
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How should abortion be?
Even with all the recent talk about abortions, we often forget what the process should look like.
Experts say it doesn’t take much; all of this implies access to a provider who respects your decision, your confidentiality and your autonomy, like any other medical intervention.
“You want to be informed. You want to be respected. And you don’t want to be judged,” says Biggs. “People want the choice to have a simple procedure done in an unobtrusive way, and prompt care is crucial. Having care near you, having it covered by insurance – those are things we would want for health care. ‘Appropriate Abortion’.
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Kumar adds that her priority is to provide her patients with as much control and autonomy over their bodies and their future.
“The most important thing for me is to ask (patients) what can improve this experience? Do they need music? Do they want to turn off the lights? It’s all we can do as providers to give them as much control as we can safely allow them to the best of our abilities,” he says.
Mental health experts say these simple steps can prevent the physical risks of a self-directed abortion, as well as the various stressors of an unwanted pregnancy.
“When people know they don’t want to be pregnant, what bothers them is worrying about terminating the pregnancy to get on with their lives,” he added. Eli said. “So making it comfortable, safe and easy is really the best solution to preventing mental health risks and mitigating existing negative situations.”
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