Myths about abortion and women’s mental health are prevalent, experts say
“There are so many misinformation, so many myths about abortion. Abortion will lead to addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts; abortion is bad for your health; every woman will regret it,” said said social psychologist Brenda Major, eminent professor emeritus. in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Women who had first-trimester abortions were no more likely to have mental health problems than women who continued with unplanned pregnancies, the APA review found.
The research also found no difference in mental health outcomes between a first-trimester abortion and an abortion later in pregnancy.
Sources of misinformation
“In some states, women have been told that because they have abortions they are at increased risk for depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder and more,” said Julia Steinberg, professor Fellow in Family Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
“Abortion doesn’t cause depression, it doesn’t cause suicide (or) suicidal ideation. It doesn’t cause substance use. It doesn’t cause anxiety disorders,” said Steinberg, who studies the impact of abortion on mental health for years.
In fact, the best predictor of not doing well after an abortion was a “history of mental health issues,” Major said. “The best predictor of substance use after an abortion was if you were already addicted, and the best predictor of depression after an abortion was if you were depressed before having one.”
Abortion misinformation also stems from studies published in academic journals that conclude abortion causes mental health problems, experts say.
“The studies make it look like there’s a debate, but what’s really going on is that these studies are very poorly conducted,” Steinberg said. “They are not methodologically rigorous and they do not adhere to scientific principles.”
The 2008 APA Task Force issued a scathing rebuke of the research quality of many studies that found mental health problems after abortion. Studies have often failed to control for factors such as rape, sexual or intimate partner violence, or a woman’s history of mental illness or substance abuse.
“We reviewed all the legitimate studies that had ever been done on this topic,” Major said. “The methodological flaws in so many studies that are cited as showing damage to women’s mental health following abortion were simply glaring.”
Yet this belief that abortion harms women’s mental and physical health has been used to justify “waiting-time laws, two-trip requirements (in which women must return twice), and the giving women inaccurate information about medical abortion,” Steinberg said.
Being denied an abortion
The Turnaway study also looked at the short- and long-term impact of refusing an abortion. The results showed that women who were turned down were more likely to experience significant anxiety and stress.
“And then, when it comes time to be denied an abortion, those symptoms go even deeper. And then over time, they dissipate,” said Biggs, an associate professor at UCSF.
After five years, the study found that women who were denied abortions were “more likely to live in poverty and significantly more likely to suffer economic hardship, including more bankruptcy, debt and difficulty meeting basic living needs,” Biggs said.
Women who were turned down were also more likely to be attached to a violent and abusive partner and to have chronic health conditions, Biggs said. “They also lowered their aspirations (for the future) and they were less likely to achieve them,” she added.
If a woman refusing an abortion already had children under 5, these children were less likely to reach their developmental milestones, more likely to live in poverty, and less likely to bond with their mothers, the study found.
Will these results affect more women now than Roe v. Wade got canceled?
“I’m completely overwhelmed with worry,” Biggs said. “I fear that people will be able to get the care they want. Some will have to overcome huge obstacles to access care.
“Then there are women who I fear may be using other, less safe methods to self-manage pregnancies or carry to term in a situation they feel is not ideal for them,” Biggs said.