Study: Abortions don't harm women's mental health

Anti-choice activists and politicians have long argued that abortion causes negative mental health issues — often as a means of justifying interfering with women's reproductive healthcare. It's something we just saw in Texas, where officials released a mandatorily distributed pamphlet linking abortion to depression. Several states require mandatory abortion counseling that warns women of negative emotional responses to the procedure.

But a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that women who have abortions are not at greater risk of experiencing depression or anxiety. In fact, researchers found that — wait for it, wait for it — it is denying women abortions that is associated with poor mental health outcomes.

Related: Reactions to SCOTUS striking down Texas abortion law

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US Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Texas abortion law
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US Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Texas abortion law
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A demonstrator wearing a cowboy hat with a uterus symbol holds a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is set to rule on a legal challenge by abortion providers to a Texas law requiring doctors performing the procedure to have "admitting privileges" at local hospitals and clinics to meet hospital-grade standards in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to decide today whether a Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their constitutional right to abortion in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A woman wearing a cowboy hat with a uterus symbol demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is set to rule on a legal challenge by abortion providers to a Texas law requiring doctors performing the procedure to have "admitting privileges" at local hospitals and clinics to meet hospital-grade standards in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A protester holds up a sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on the morning the court takes up a major abortion case focusing on whether a Texas law that imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors and clinic buildings interferes with the constitutional right of a woman to end her pregnancy, in Washington March 2, 2016. Picture taken March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activists wait for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activists wait for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-life activist, Ryan Orr, 17, of Manassas, Va, waits holds a silent vigil as he waits for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activist, Jaimie Ermak, 24, from Washington, D.C., waits for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Pro-choice and pro-life protesters clash in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, center, and other pro-life protesters clash with pro-choice protesters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday morning, June 20, 2016. The court is expected to hand down their decision on a Texas law which requires clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers and forces doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: A pro-life protester holds a sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
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"What we find is that denying women abortion has negative consequences to their mental health and well-being, and we find no evidence of emerging mental health problems after an abortion," said lead author Antonia Biggs, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco research group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health.

Many studies have already reported finding no evidence of negative abortion-related mental health effects. When the American Psychological Association reviewed the relevant research, it concluded that there was "no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women." But the current study improves upon the methodology of that past research, according to Biggs, and provides the best evidence yet that abortion doesn't cause mental harm.

RELATED: Frequency of abortions over time

The researchers recruited and interviewed 956 women from 30 different abortion clinics in 21 U.S. states. They were first interviewed a week after seeking out an abortion, and then semi-annually for five years. The researchers primarily focused on comparing two different groups: women who had an abortion just short of the clinic's gestational age limit and women who were denied an abortion because they were just past the clinic's gestational age limit.

These two groups made for a good comparison because they were similarly far along in their pregnancies and both consisted of women who wanted an abortion. It would be unfair to use a woman who is intentionally pregnant as a comparison, because of course there might be negative mental health effects simply from being unwittingly pregnant. This design made it possible to distinguish between the potential effects of not wanting to be pregnant and of having an abortion.

Within the group that was denied an abortion, things were further broken down: those who eventually gave birth and those who did not (either because they miscarried or obtained an abortion elsewhere).

Related: Top 2016 issue -- pro-life vs. pro-choice

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MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/22: Girl holds up hand-lettered sign in front of Planned Parenthood. A coalition of anti-abortion protesters protested on Mott Street in Manhattan in front of Planned Parenthood. (Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/22: Assembly of some 150 anti-abortion protesters behind barricade in front of Planned Parenthood. A coalition of anti-abortion protesters protested on Mott Street in Manhattan in front of Planned Parenthood. (Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/22: Adrienne Luendo (rt) of Stop Patriarchy debates with anti-abortion protesters. A coalition of anti-abortion protesters protested on Mott Street in Manhattan in front of Planned Parenthood. (Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/22: A coalition of anti-abortion protesters protested on Mott Street in Manhattan in front of Planned Parenthood. (Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
AKRON, OH- SEPTEMBER 8: Donald Wilson, 64, protests against abortion in front of the Planned Parenthood Health Center on September 8, 2015 in Akron, OH. (Photo by Mary F. Calvert For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
TINLEY PARK, IL - JULY 31: Stages of a fetus are displayed at the Illinois Right To Life a table while Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks at the Freedom's Journal Institute for the Study of Faith and Public Policy 2015 Rise Initiative on July 31, 2015 in Tinley Park, Illinois. The event was billed as a 'frank discussion on defending the sanctity of life from conception to natural death'. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson attends a anti-abortion rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Planned Parenthood faces mounting criticism amid the release of videos by a pro-life group and demands to vote in the Senate to stop funding. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during a Anti-abortion rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Planned Parenthood faces mounting criticism amid the release of videos by a pro-life group and demands to vote in the Senate to stop funding. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Anti-abortion activists hold a rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
A pro-choice activists holds a placard in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, January 22, 2015, as she and others await the pro-choice activists with the March For Life. Tens of thousands of Americans who oppose abortion are in Washington for the annual March for Life, marking the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti-abortion activists take part in the annual March for Life rally on January 22, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-choice activists block the road as US Capitol Police escort the March For Life's front of the US Supreme Court (rear) in Washington, DC, on January 22, 2015. Tens of thousands of Americans who oppose abortion are in Washington for the annual March for Life, marking the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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The researchers found that one week after first seeking an abortion, it was the women who were beyond the gestational age limit and therefore denied the procedure who suffered. Compared to women who sought out an abortion while near the gestational limit, these women who were denied an abortion reported more anxiety, lower self-esteem, and lesser life satisfaction. The only measure that was similar in both groups was depression.

As the study puts it, "compared with having an abortion, being denied an abortion may be associated with greater risk of initially experiencing adverse psychological outcomes." The study explains that this "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." In other words, it could be the denial of abortion itself, or also a result of the perhaps unique challenges facing those who seek out an abortion just after the gestational cut-off.

But the researchers found that "psychological well-being improved over time so that both groups of women eventually converged." In other words, five years later, these groups were doing just about the same in terms of their mental health. "That is something that is surprising to me, that women who are denied an abortion were so resilient and the negative effects weren't longer term," said Biggs.

The ultimate takeaway here is that abortion isn't associated with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or a poor sense of well-being. As the researchers conclude, "These findings do not support policies that restrict women's access to abortion on the basis that abortion harms women's mental health." Of course, politicians find plenty of other ways to limit abortion — including Ohio Gov. John Kasich who just signed a 20-week abortion ban on the grounds of "protecting the sanctity of human life."

The post Study: Abortions Don't Harm Women's Mental Health appeared first on Vocativ.

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