A young woman holds a sign demanding a woman’s right to abortion at a demonstration to protest the closing of a Madison abortion clinic in Madison, Wis., April 20, 1971. Photo via AP

The newest and largest U.S. study to date, following nearly 1,000 women over five years, shows that abortion doesn’t cause short- or long-term psychological issues. Not that politicians use facts or science when passing abortion laws anyway, but should they decide to start, this is good news.

The study, dubbed the Turnaway Study and published December 14 in JAMA Psychiatry, followed 956 women for five years. It found that women who had abortions didn’t display more symptoms of anxiety or depression than they did before their abortions: not a week later, not six months later, not a year later. In fact, the only negative mental health outcomes that were reported in the short term were by women were denied abortions: eight days after being turned away for an abortion procedure, they reported “significantly more anxiety symptoms and lower self-esteem and life satisfaction.” (Some of the women who were denied abortions obtained them elsewhere; others gave birth.)


But even those symptoms, the researchers found, abated somewhat after six months to a year.

Women who were denied an abortion, in particular those who later miscarried or had an abortion elsewhere (turnaway no-birth group), had the most elevated levels of anxiety and lowest self-esteem and life satisfaction 1 week after being denied an abortion, which quickly improved and approached levels similar to those in the other groups by 6 to 12 months.


And they point out that for women who did experience anxiety or depression, an unintended pregnancy and a lack of social support might be the cause of “lowered mental health indicators,” rather than the decision to abort itself.

These initial elevated levels of distress experienced by both turnaway groups may be a response to being denied an abortion, as well as other social and emotional challenges faced on discovery of unwanted pregnancy and abortion seeking. The reasons women give for seeking abortion—not having enough money, partner issues, bad timing, needing to focus on existing children, and not being emotionally or mentally prepared—are indicative of their difficult circumstances at the time they seek an abortion. The experience of an unintended pregnancy may cause women to contend with their circumstances and reflect on their lives. When relationships and financial situations are thought to be insufficient to support a pregnancy, this feeling of deficiency, rather than the decision to abort or the procedure itself, may be the cause of lowered mental health indicators.


Previous studies have shown over and over that abortion isn’t linked to poor mental health outcomes. Being forced to give birth, however, has a demonstrated risk of tying women to abusive partners and making it more difficult to escape.


Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.

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