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.

A large long-term study, called The Turnaway Studytracked the mental health of nearly 1,000 women in 21 states who wanted and got abortions and women who wanted but were denied abortions between 2008 and 2010.
The women were interviewed every six months over the next five years. At the end of this period, 99% of women who had abortions believed they had made the right decision; in fact, relief was the predominant emotion, a graded analysis.
Women who had abortions had similar or lower levels of depression and anxiety than women refusing abortions and were no more likely to experience post-traumatic stress than women who carried babies to term , according to the results of the study.

The research also found no difference in mental health outcomes between a first-trimester abortion and an abortion later in pregnancy.

Sources of misinformation

Misinformation about abortion can come from friends or family, from an article or study read online, or during a mandatory pre-abortion counseling session some states set up in the time of Roe v. Wade, experts told CNN.
Of the 33 states that have required patients to receive pre-abortion counseling, eight have consistently included the potential for negative psychological responses as part of the conversation, according to the Guttmacher Institutea nonprofit research and policy organization that focuses on sexual and reproductive rights worldwide.

“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.”

one later 2018 Review of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine analyzed studies on the impact of abortion on future fertility and pregnancy outcomes, breast cancer risk, mental health disorders and premature death.
“Much of the published literature on these topics does not meet the scientific standards of rigorous and unbiased research,” the report saidconcluding that “abortion does not increase the risk of secondary infertility, pregnancy-related hypertensive disorders, abnormal placentation (after D&E abortion), preterm birth, breast cancer, or mental health disorders (depression, anxiety and PTSD).”

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.

“In my research, we found that the challenges of getting an abortion — finding a place, traveling, having to disclose your abortion to someone you would rather not see — increased symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress,” said social psychologist Antonia Biggs, one Turnaway researchers from the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) Project at the University of California, San Francisco.

“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.

Women refused an abortion who carried their babies to term were “much more likely to have physical health issues at the time of delivery because childbirth is much riskier than abortion,” Biggs said. Two of the women in the study died during childbirth.
A 2012 study found that the risk of death associated with childbirth is about 14 times greater than the risk of abortion.

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.

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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.

“Others will hopefully be able to manage their own abortions safely by accessing medical abortion pills online, which we know is quite safe,” Biggs said. Before the Supreme Court overturned, more than half of all abortions in the United States were done via a two-drug prescription method, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

“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.

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