Women who receive wanted abortions experience less anxiety and better mental health than women who are denied abortions, researchers at the University of California found. The study refutes the long-held conception that women who receive abortions experience negative mental health outcomes—an idea that has been used to justify legislation restricting abortions and requiring mental health counseling before undergoing the procedure.
The findings released Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry come a day after Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, while simultaneously vetoing legislation that would have banned abortions at six weeks. Kasich's controversial move is likely to be challenged in court.
Nine states currently require psychological counseling for women seeking an abortion, according to the study.
But findings suggest that “there is no evidence to justify laws that require women seeking abortion to be forewarned about negative psychological responses,” the authors conclude.
Researchers evaluated the mental well-being of nearly 1,000 adults who either received or were denied an abortion in recent years. The women, who were 25 years old on average, were recruited from abortion clinics in 21 states and were interviewed one week after seeking an abortion and then twice a year for five years after.
The study group included 452 women who terminated their pregnancies just under the clinic's gestational term limit, 273 women who received an abortion during their first trimester, and 231 women who were denied abortions because their pregnancies were beyond the clinic's gestation term limit. Women who were turned away included 161 who gave birth and 70 who later miscarried or had an abortion elsewhere.
Researchers found that one week after seeking an abortion, the women who were denied because their pregnancy was past the clinic's gestation limit had greater anxiety, lower self-esteem and lower life satisfaction than women who received an abortion with pregnancies just under the clinic's limit.
The study authors suggest that higher levels of distress experienced by the women who were turned away could stem from being denied or could be from other social and emotional challenges that come with an unwanted pregnancy and the difficult circumstances surrounding seeking an abortion, such as financial insecurity, bad timing or not being emotionally ready.
At the same time, levels of depression were similar in both groups. The outcomes improved or remained steady over the five-year period.
As a new administration under President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take the White House, states are getting ready for legal fights over abortion and reproductive health rights. Abortion rights activists worry that the Republican president and GOP-controlled Congress will lead to greater restrictions on abortion access. Supporters of imposing restrictions on abortions argue that stricter rules protect the health of the woman and fetus.