Share on Pinterest
Researchers are investigating how women feel years after having an abortion. Getty Images
  • 99% of women said having an abortion was the right choice 5 years later.
  • Certain states have started requiring waiting periods before having an abortion.
  • Some women do report feelings of guilt or sadness if they live in a community where abortion is stigmatized.

What’s the number one emotion women experience after getting an abortion? The answer may surprise you.

New research has found that most women feel relief after an abortion.

Nearly all women in the study — including those who had difficulty making the choice to end their pregnancy — said it was the right decision 5 years later.

The report, which was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine on Jan. 12, debunks the assumption that women regret terminating their pregnancies — a notion that’s been used by anti-choice activists to lobby for mandatory waiting periods and abortion counseling in many states.

For the study, researchers from the University of California San Francisco and Columbia University looked at data on 667 women across 21 states who participated in the Turnaway Study, a 5-year project that examined the health and socioeconomic effects of abortions.

The study had an ethnically diverse participant base, composed of 35 percent non-Latina white, 32 percent non-Latina black, 21 percent Latina, and 13 percent other races.

The average age of participants was 25 years old at the beginning of the study. Around 6 in 10 participants already had at least one child.

While more than half of participants struggled to make the choice to get an abortion, 97.5 percent of the women told interviewers a week after the procedure that it was the right decision.

After 5 years, 99 percent felt that getting an abortion was the right move.

“I perform abortions, and most people who come in asking for it know that it’s what they want,” said Dr. Tristan Bickman, an OB-GYN in Santa Monica, California, and co-author of “Whoa Baby!: A Guide for New Moms Who Feel Overwhelmed and Freaked Out (and Wonder What the #*$& Just Happened).”

“Of course, there are always exceptions, but most people feel that they can’t get it done soon enough and they’re all relieved [when it’s over],” she said.

The participants were also asked the degree to which they felt six emotions: relief, happiness, regret, sadness, anger, and guilt.

More than half responded that they felt mostly positive, 20 percent felt few to no emotions, and 29 percent felt either mixed or negative about their abortions within a week of ending their pregnancies.

Stigmas within their communities seemed to affect how women felt about getting an abortion — but not the confidence they had in their decision.

Those who felt that their communities would judge them for seeking an abortion were more likely to feel sadness, guilt, and anger after the procedure.

“Feeling like the community looks down upon a person who moves forward with an abortion is very strong in our society,” said Dr. Amir G. Nasseri, an OB-GYN at Her Choice Women’s Clinic in Santa Ana, California. “That plays a big role in how women perceive their decision.”

Nasseri added that doctors can help put patients from stigmatized communities at ease after they’ve made the decision to get an abortion.

“Because of the stigma around abortion, many people don’t talk about it and patients can feel isolated,” he explained. “I show them the numbers of how many people have abortions and the reasons for getting them. She often falls into one of those categories and can feel less alone in that decision.”

Regardless of how women felt right after getting an abortion, the study found that strong emotions diminished over time for all participants.

At the 5-year mark, 84 percent of women reported feeling positive or nothing whatsoever about their abortion decision.

Relief was the most prominent emotion participants reported at every point throughout the study.

Women have had the legal right to obtain an abortion in the United States since Roe v. Wade was decided in the Supreme Court in 1973.

Since then, many states have placed restrictions on this family planning option based on the assumption that women come to regret their abortions, according to the authors of the recent study.

The Guttmacher Institute reports that 34 states require people to undergo counseling before getting an abortion.

Mandatory waiting periods, which force women to wait 18 to 72 hours between counseling and getting an abortion, are in effect in 27 states.

Waiting periods force women to make two separate trips to their provider in order to get an abortion, which can be a challenge for patients.

Earlier research has found that this burden prevents 10 to 13 percent of women who want an abortion from getting one and may increase the potential for harm to the patient without providing any medical benefits.

The findings in the recent study may have the ability to influence laws that were built on the flawed premise of abortion regret, said Bickman.

“Those people who are pro-life can no longer use the excuse that someone’s going to regret their abortion later,” she said.

In the meantime, Nasseri hopes to see additional studies build upon the existing findings about women and abortions.

“Having that information publicized with additional studies will show the bigger picture that abortion is not a negative thing in family planning and eventually sway public opinion on the issue,” he said.