|For many women, the feeling right after getting an abortion is often a mix of sadness, guilt, sadness, anger, and relief. But fast forward to five years later, nearly all of them say they mostly feel relieved / Photo by: belchonock via 123RF|
For many women, the feeling right after getting an abortion is often a mix of sadness, guilt, sadness, anger, and relief. But fast forward to five years later, nearly all of them say they mostly feel relieved.
A new landmark study from the University of California in San Fransisco found that most women don't regret their choice of getting an abortion despite the struggles and stigma attached to the procedure.
The researchers followed the women from a week following their abortion to five years later to understand what they felt about their decisions. Their findings debunk the notion that abortion can emotionally harm women.
As part of the so-called Turnaway Study, the researchers analyzed the emotions of 667 women recruited from 30 sites in the US. The women started answering questions about what they were feeling after getting an abortion a week after and then twice yearly after that.
The week after showed 51% of women expressing mostly positive emotions, 17% negative emotions, and 20% said they had either none or few. However, the researchers were surprised to find that all emotions—be it good or bad—faded over time.
Five years after their abortion, 84% of the women reported either feeling positive emotions or none at while merely 6% said they mostly felt negative feelings and "no evidence" of new negative or positive emotions, The Washington Post reports.
"A really interesting finding is how the intensity of all emotions is so low," said lead author Corinne Rocca, who is also a UCSF associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences.
The study also found that most women (95%) interviewed said they made the correct decision—which increased to 99% after five years. Rocca said that feeling regret and the judgment that abortion was the right decision given their situation are different things.
"You can feel the emotion of regret, yet feel you did what was right for you," the lead author told The Washington Post.
Factors That Affected Women's Emotions
Even with significant results debunking preconceived ideas about abortion, anti-abortion groups still criticized the study. Anti-abortionist David Reardon said only 27% of the original 3,045 women who were recruited for the study went through with the interviews, with more dropping out as the research progressed.
Still, the Turnaway study was remarkable given that response rates are rarely high and usually fall with time in interviews regarding a stigmatized procedure.
The Daily Mail reports that the small percentage of women whose negative emotions remained or felt any degree of uncertainty about abortion have two things in common: They were women who were unsure of terminating their pregnancies and faced stigma in their communities.
Rocca said these are personal and social factors that, for her, are not surprising and are exactly what should be expected. However, factors that did not affect their feelings towards their abortion are race, ethnicity, income, age, and education levels.
"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," Rocca noted.
"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."
|As part of the so-called Turnaway Study, the researchers analyzed the emotions of 667 women recruited from 30 sites in the US. The women started answering questions about what they were feeling after getting an abortion a week after and then twice yearly after that / Photo by: Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123RF|
A Stigmatized Procedure
Part of the study is weighing the political implications of the results. The authors said their findings "challenge the rationale for state-mandated counseling protocols … and other policies regulating access to abortion premised on emotional harm claims (e.g. waiting periods.).”
While a significant portion of the women surveyed said getting an abortion wasn't a difficult decision (46%), a good percentage said their communities would look down on them if their abortion was known (31%).
According to the Insider, women living in those communities reported higher levels of sadness following the abortion—which implies that a sociocultural context plays a role in how women feel about the procedure.
Abortion has been a highly stigmatized and polarizing procedure in the US since 1973. A 2019 Gallup Poll found that 53% of American adults saying abortion should only be legal under certain circumstances while 21% said the procedure should be completely illegal.
In the US, 45 states allowed healthcare providers to refuse giving women abortion while 27 others require a waiting period before going through with the procedure. Eight states also require giving women literature on the long-term effects of abortion on their mental health.
The Insider says these laws were established on the belief that going through an abortion will cause long-term emotional harm, but the recent study debunks this idea and shows that the premise is faulty.
However, Professor Wendy Chavkin of the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health said the findings—even with their consistencies with past research—won't affect the policies too much.
"The people who are so opposed to abortion don't care about the data," Chavkin told the Insider. "It's like climate change deniers. The data is irrelevant. But for women considering abortions to know that 95% of women didn't regret it? That's important."