Emotional and Mental Health After Abortion

What abortion opponents claim: Having an abortion leads to emotional distress, negative feelings or mental health problems.

What the research shows: Women’s feelings after having an abortion vary, but several studies published in Perspectives have found no evidence that having an abortion is itself responsible for later mental health problems. These are findings from just a few of them:

Four months after having an abortion, four in 10 women in a clinic-based sample studied in 1975 had unresolved negative feelings about the abortion. They differed from the rest in more often having “attributes that suggested avoidance of feelings or a negative self-image.” They also reported less stable relationships and less support from their partners than women whose feelings about the procedure were resolved.

In a sample of teenagers who obtained pregnancy tests in 1985–1986, those who terminated a pregnancy were no more likely to have psychological problems two years later than were those who had not been pregnant or had gone on to give birth. In fact, they experienced less negative psychological change than the others.

One week after having an abortion, women in a 2008­–2010 study “felt more regret, sadness and anger about the pregnancy than about the abortion, and felt more relief and happiness about the abortion than about the pregnancy.” The likelihood of having a mainly negative emotional response to the abortion increased with the extent to which women had planned the pregnancy and had had difficulty making the abortion decision.

A study of Dutch women who were interviewed shortly after having abortions in 2010–2011 and followed for an average of nearly three years found no connection between abortion-related variables—preabortion decision difficulty or uncertainty, and history of multiple abortions, to name a few—and later mental disorders. But relationship problems and having a history of mental disorders were associated with subsequent mental disorders.

Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Family Planning Perspectives may be accessed through Wiley Online Library (2003–) and JSTOR (1969–2011).

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine

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