Nearly all women – 95 percent, to be exact – say that getting an abortion was the right decision five years after they made it, according to a new study.
Anti-abortion legislation in the US has often purported to aim to protect the physical and emotional well-being of women, arguing that abortion might be a traumatic experience and remorse trigger.
Deciding to terminate a pregnancy is certainly a difficult decision for most, but the majority of women also report they believe they made the right decision immediately after aborting.
New University of California, San Francisco research found that they almost universally feel the same way five years down the line, further debunking notions that abortion harms women.
By the time five years had passed since their abortions, even women who found the decision to terminate ‘very difficult’ (green) felt overwhelmingly that they’d made the right choice
Abortion rates in the US have been consistently falling for the last several years, with an estimated 862,320 performed in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Twenty-nine states have enacted legislation that restricts access to abortion in the US, and several more states are embroiled in legal battles over similar laws, such as ‘heartbeat bills.’
While the predominant argument made for these bills is the pro-life notion that life begins at conception, many lawmakers also claim that their pushing for abortion legislation in an effort to protect women’s health.
For example, three states have enacted laws that require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital near their clinics.
Ostensibly, this is to ensure that, if any complications arise during the procedure, a patient can be quickly transferred to a facility better equipped for more extensive diagnostics and treatments.
But in reality, research suggests that requiring these privileges does nothing to ensure better outcomes for women – it just makes it harder for them to get an abortion in the first place.
Some states also require women considering abortions to undergo counseling ahead of their procedures, during which they must be warned that abortion could lead them to fall into severe depressions, and suffer other psychological harms.
These laws follow the Supreme Court’s Gonzales v Carhart decision in 2007.
In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that ‘it seems unexceptionable to conclude that some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained…Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.’
That decision is thought by many to have signaled a shift in the high court’s posture toward abortion and paved the way for abortion counseling laws.
‘Having negative emotions after – what for some is a difficult decisions, a big deal in their lives – experience some guilt and negative emotions, I would be shocked if we didn’t find that,’ UCSF study co-author Dr Corinne Rocca told DailyMail.com.
‘Negative emotions are not something to legislate, it’s natural.’
And her study, published in Social Science & Medicine, found that these emotions fade over time (as do positive emotions about their abortions, incidentally).
‘I think it’s really encouraging to find that negative emotions go down over time,’ added Dr Rocca.
She and her team conducted a total of 11 interviews with nearly 1,000 American women who underwent abortions over the course of five years following their procedures.
At first, more than half of the women interviewed as part of the Turnaway study – a data collection project designed to track the short- and long-term effects of abortion women’s well-being – had positive emotions, a week after their procedures.
Twenty percent said they didn’t feel much about the procedure, while 17 said that they had negative emotions about their abortions.
As their lives moved on post-abortion, the number of women who had little or no feelings about their abortions increased significantly. By the time it was five years out, just six percent had any vestigial negative feelings.
At the five-year mark, 94 percent of those women said that having the abortion had been the right decision for them.
The vast majority – 84 percent – said they had either positive feelings toward their abortions or had none at all.
Writing in the Catholic Medical Association’s journal, antiabortionist Dr David Reardon noted that less than a third (27 percent) of the 3,045 women who were offered the chance to make $50 by participating in the Turnaway study actually stuck with it, with more dropping out with each round of interviews.
As epidemiological studies go, 1,000 participants isn’t a huge number even when it’s controlled to be representative of the country as the Turnaway one is.
On the other hand, response rates are rarely high, fall with time may be be lower when the interviews are regarding a somewhat stigmatized procedure.
The very small percentage of women who still said they had negative emotions about or felt any degree of uncertainty that deciding to terminate their pregnancies was ‘right’ shared two things in common: They were the same women who had trouble deciding whether to terminate or keep a pregnancy, and they faced stigma in their communities.
‘These are personal and social factors,’ explained Dr Rocca.
‘To me, that’s not surprising, it’s exactly what we would expect.’
Women’s race, ethnicity, income, age or educations levels did not predict how they would feel about their abortions.
Moreover, the majority answered ‘yes’ every time they were asked if it was the right decision over those five years.
Dr Rocca also notes that ‘there is a small proportion of people who regret any decision they make…bioethicists talk about this with cancer [treatments and other medical decisions] too.’
‘There’s no part of me that wants to reduce the struggle of people who come to a place where they wish they had made a different decision and I hope they get the counseling they need.
‘But it’s misguided to then let that guide the overwhelming majority of people who seek this care.’