Evidence suggests that abortion doesn’t lead to poor mental health — but restricting abortion access does.
In many states, healthcare professionals are legally obligated to tell you that abortion leads to poor mental health.
Decades of rigorous research have found that abortion doesn’t cause mental health conditions or symptoms of them.
Being denied an abortion when you want one, however, can have a negative impact on your overall well-being.
Research overwhelmingly suggests that receiving abortion care does not have a negative effect on your mental health.
This conclusion is supported by many reputable organizations including:
- American Psychological Association
- American Psychiatric Association
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Center for Reproductive Rights
You may have been told that many people experience “post-abortion syndrome” or “post-abortion stress syndrome” — a condition where you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-like symptoms after abortion. But there’s
Post-abortion syndrome isn’t recognized by the International Classification of Diseases or the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. These manuals are widely used to classify and diagnose mental health conditions.
The Turnaway Study, a landmark analysis conducted by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, gathered data on people who sought abortions over a period of several years.
Previous studies compared the well-being of people who had wanted pregnancies with people who had wanted abortions.
Because the experience of being pregnant and wanting to have a child is inherently different from being pregnant and not wanting to have a child, the data is biased. It’s comparing apples with oranges.
Instead, the Turnaway Study looked at mental health outcomes for people who had wanted abortions compared with people who wanted abortions but couldn’t access them.
Studies based on the Turnaway Study data have found that:
- Having an abortion
doesn’t leadto worse mental health outcomes.
- Whether they received or were denied abortions, the participants
experienced improvementsin their mental health 5 years after seeking abortion services.
- People who had an abortion were no more likely to feel suicidal than those who were denied an abortion, neither immediately after seeking an abortion nor years later.
- People who had an abortion were no more likely to develop PTSD than those who were denied an abortion, neither immediately after seeking an abortion nor years later.
- Having an abortion
doesn’t lead toincreased alcohol use, tobacco use, or use of other substances.
In terms of emotions, a study recorded how people felt about their abortion over a 5-year period. Out of all emotions, people most commonly report feeling relieved about their abortion.
Everybody feels different after an abortion. And although most people seem to feel positive about their abortion years later, it’s common to be grappling with negative or complicated feelings.
If you’re looking for emotional support after having an abortion, consider reaching out to All-Options (888-493-0092) or Exhale (call 866-439-4253 or text 617-749-2948) for compassionate and nonjudgmental post-abortion counseling.
Access to abortion care is banned in many states. In states where abortion is legal, you may have to face restrictions such as mandatory waiting periods between the time you seek abortion care and the time you receive abortion services.
Research suggests that mandatory waiting periods can cause
Some states require mandatory pre-abortion counseling. In many states, healthcare professionals legally have to share inaccurate or misleading information designed to convince people to not have an abortion.
This includes inaccurate information on the mental health consequences of having an abortion.
Research has also shown that people who face stigma when they seek an abortion — whether they have an abortion or not — are
Overall, wanting abortion care and being unable to access it is associated with worse mental health outcomes, according to a 2021 systematic review.
This review also concluded that people who were denied abortions were more likely to face poor financial outcomes.
Most participants were in their fifties, and most of their pregnancies occurred before abortion was legalized.
It concluded that unwanted pregnancies are strongly associated with poor mental health effects — particularly depression — later in life.
Research shows that people who were denied abortions are also more likely to:
- live in poverty
- have worse credit scores
- face bankruptcies and evictions
- stay with a violent partner
- raise children alone
A 2019 study found that people who were denied abortions and went on to give birth were more likely to face poor physical health outcomes. They reported more chronic headaches, migraines, and joint pain.
Another 5-year study, published in 2021, looked at the emotional well-being of people who were denied abortions.
Although participants reported feeling both negative and positive emotions a week after being denied an abortion, their emotional state gradually improved during pregnancy and after childbirth.
This suggests that although abortion denial can cause emotional distress, it’s possible to feel better over time.
If you wanted but were unable to receive an abortion, you may be feeling a range of emotions.
Overall, being denied an abortion is associated with worse mental health outcomes. But this doesn’t mean you’ll inevitably develop a mental health condition or grapple with emotional difficulties forever.
Most of the abovementioned studies note that your mental health depends on your circumstances.
You may be more at risk of developing a mental health condition after an abortion denial if you:
- have little or no social support
- had a mental health condition or symptoms of a mental health condition before seeking an abortion
- don’t feel accomplished in your career and other aspects of your life
- don’t feel that you adequately bonded with your newborn
- face financial stress
Support groups for people in your situation — whether you later have an abortion, miscarry, or give birth — can help you find social support.
When people have wanted abortions, their existing children and subsequent children (children born after their abortion) fare better.
Research has shown that the existing children of people who were denied abortions are more likely to have lower child development scores than the existing children of people who had abortions.
It found that index children were more likely to experience poor maternal bonding and live in poverty.
There are many myths about mental health and abortion. Research overwhelmingly shows that having an abortion does not result in poor mental health outcomes — but being denied an abortion does.
Whether you’ve had an abortion, been denied an abortion, or are considering abortion, it’s a good idea to get emotional support if you feel that you need it.
No matter what you’re feeling — whether it’s relief, sadness, guilt, anger, happiness, or something else — you deserve empathetic, nonjudgmental support.
You can find post-abortion counseling support at:
- All-Options (888-493-0092)
- Connect and Breathe (call 1-866-647-1764)
- Exhale (call 866-439-4253 or text 617-749-2948)
The following Healthline articles may also be helpful:
- After Abortion Care: What To Expect After Your Abortion
- How to Safely Self-Manage a Medication Abortion at Home
- How to Access an Abortion in Each State
- What’s the Deal with Post-Abortion Syndrome?
Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.