Following the fall of Roe v. Wade last June, the American Psychiatric Association warned that the Supreme Court’s decision jeopardized the mental health of millions of Americans.  It’s too soon to understand just by how much but a study published in 2017 provides insight into the long-term impacts of denying women* abortions, a phenomenon which has only spread post-Roe as millions of Americans now live in states where abortion is severely or entirely restricted.  Although the anti-abortion movement often uses mental health as a reason not to have an abortion, anecdotal and scientific evidence shows us otherwise: that abortion is mental health care.
The anti-abortion movement maintains that depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and even something they call “post-abortion stress syndrome” can result from having an abortion, although no evidence has been found linking abortion to an increased risk of any mental health conditions. [3, 4] In fact, a major longitudinal study called the Turnaway Study found that being denied an abortion more likely results in greater psychological risk short-term.  This risk continued years later, as the women who’d been “turned away” from having an abortion were more likely to live in poverty, stay with abusive partners, and experience poor physical health – conditions conducive to poor mental health. [5, 6] The Turnaway Study also attacked claims surrounding abortion regret, which are used to uphold anti-abortion tactics such as “abortion pill reversal,” mandatory waiting periods, and anti-abortion fake clinic ‘counseling’ programs.  Rather than expressing regret, 95% of the women who had abortions in the study reported that having the abortion was the right decision for them over five years later.  The Turnaway Study provides extensive proof of what we already know: that we are experts in our own lives.
Although the fall of Roe has jeopardized our collective mental health by limiting the agency we can exercise over our futures, hope is not lost. We can both acknowledge the difficulty of feeling mentally well amid policies and cultural values that don’t protect us or our mental health, and use our sadness, anger, and grief to propel us forward. Small acts of self-preservation, like taking social media breaks, or setting boundaries around activist talk with friends and family, can help us be in this fight for the long run.
As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s vital not only that we set practices that we can continue all year to preserve our own mental wellness, but also speak out to end the stigma around mental health care, just as we work to destigmatize abortion care. The fact is: no one should be shamed for seeking any form of health care, and the different methods of care we need to preserve our own health and wellness are intertwined.
*We acknowledge that not all seeking abortions are women. This identifier is used solely to maintain the integrity of the study results.