In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan charged Surgeon General C. Everett Koop with the task of creating a report declaring a link between abortions and decreased mental health quality. Koop didn’t deliver on the study; instead, in 1989, he sent Reagan a let- ter which stated that “the available scientific evidence about the psychological sequelae of abortion simply cannot support either the preconceived notions of those pro-life or those pro-choice.” Koop recommended that in order to assess the actual effects of abortion on women’s mental health, a long and comprehensive study needed to be conducted.
The notion that having an abortion will destroy you emotionally didn’t begin with the Reagan administration, and it didn’t end with Koop’s assertion that there was not enough data to prove this. Anti-choice folks claim the existence of “Post Abortion Traumatic Stress Syndrome,” indicated by guilt, anxiety, avoidance of chil- dren and pregnant women, numbness, depression, suicide, etc., after having an abortion. Although neither the American Psychological Association nor the American Psychiatric Association has acknowledged Post Abortion Syndrome as being real, that hasn’t stopped the anti-choice movement from perpetuating the myth, particularly in crisis pregnancy centers.
In order to assess the long term effect of abortion on women’s mental, physical and socio-economic lives, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) began the Turnaway Study, the first to respond to Koop’s call for a more complex study of the relationship between abortion and mental health.
Here’s what the study revealed: Women who were denied an abortion were associated with mental health difficulties, specifically anxiety and depression. Women who were able to access the abortion they wanted had more positive outcomes in terms of mental health (so much for the accusation that women regret their abortions). Over the course of 5 years, however, the two groups actually reached the same place, in that the mental health of women who weren’t able to get an abortion did improve. The Turnaway Study also noted that women’s self esteem levels were lowest just before having an abortion, but were back up after the procedure. To recap: in the short term or the long term, getting an abortion didn’t negatively impact the mental health of the women who had one. But getting turned away for one did, at least in the short term.
The findings verify that having an abortion doesn’t erode one’s mental health. A woman’s abortion decision should not be influenced by faux science that relies on the manufacture and perpetuation of lies.
CHANEL DUBOFSKY on the Lilith Blog.