Long an key pillar of the argument against abortion, the notion that terminating a pregnancy will cause a woman to experience adverse emotional or psychological health effects is false, claims a new longitudinal cohort study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
As part of the study, researchers from the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health and the University of California, San Francisco Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics monitored nearly 1,000 semiannually over a span of five years, and found that women who had an abortion experienced less mental health issues than those who wanted one but were denied.
According to CBS News and the New York Times, lead author M. Antonia Biggs, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco and her colleagues followed 956 women with an average age of 25 who were recruited from 30 abortion centers in 21 states. They interviewed each of the women one week after they sought the abortion, then again every six months for five years.
What they found, the authors wrote, was that “compared with having an abortion, being denied an abortion may be associated with greater risk of initially experiencing adverse psychological outcomes… These findings do not support policies that restrict women’s access to abortion on the basis that abortion harms women’s mental health.”
Depression symptoms slightly higher among those denied abortions
Nearly half (452) of the women participating in the study received an abortion, since they were within two week’s under their respective facility’s gestational limit, CBS News reported. About one-fourth (231) were denied an abortion because their pregnancy was up to three weeks beyond the gestational limit. A total of 273 women received a first-trimester abortion, they said.
Among the women who were denied an abortion, 161 went on to give birth, while the other 70 did not, either having an abortion elsewhere or suffering a miscarriage. One week after initially seeking an abortion, those who were denied the procedure reported more symptoms of anxiety, lower self-esteem, and lower overall life satisfaction than those who had the procedure done.
The researchers reported that study participants reported little difference in levels of depression symptoms based on whether they underwent or were denied an abortion one week after the fact. Six months to one year later, the psychological health of the women who were denied abortions improved and became similar to the members of the other groups, the study authors noted.
“What I think is incredibly interesting is how everyone kind of evens out together at six months to a year,” Northwestern University bioethicist Katie Watson, who was not involved in the study, told the New York Times. “What this study tells us about is resilience and people making the best of their circumstances and moving on. What’s sort of a revelation is the ordinariness of it.”
Dr. Roger Rochat, a former director of reproductive health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University, added that the new research “provides the best scientific evidence” on the abortion issue. He went on to call it “an incredibly powerful study” that would likely be used to in court to challenge state laws limiting access to the procedure.
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