How a forced pregnancy affects mental health

When an expired document predicts the end of Rowe vs. Wade, the nation was forced to confront its deeply polarized views on abortion. Abortion is defined as any procedure used to terminate a pregnancy. Some people fear that losing access to legal abortions will increase dangerous, self-induced attempts to terminate a pregnancy. Others believe that abortions should be reserved in cases of extreme danger – and sometimes even then.

Many arguments against abortion focus on religious or moral beliefs. However, others fear that abortion leads to long-term distress – not only physically but also mentally. They believe that abortions do not lead to relief, but to depression, anxiety, guilt and shame.

What these arguments do not take into account is the reverse: this no Abortion or forced pregnancy is more likely to cause a number of physical, mental, social, financial and emotional difficulties. Here we will focus on how the proven effects of forced pregnancy affect mental health.

The counter-argument

It is important to first understand why opponents of abortion celebrate death Rowe vs. Wade. In the expired draft, Judge Samuel Alito presented several widespread counter-arguments as reasons for reversing the decision. On behalf of “Americans who believe abortions should be limited,” he said:

“They note that attitudes towards the pregnancy of unmarried women have changed dramatically; that federal and state laws prohibit discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, that maternity leave is already guaranteed by law in many cases, that the cost of medical care related to pregnancy is covered by insurance or state aid; that states are increasingly adopting safe haven laws that generally allow women to leave babies anonymously; and that a woman who gives her newborn for adoption today has little reason to fear that the baby will not find a suitable home. ”

It is true that many parents have access to more resources and technology than they would have in the 1960s. It is also true that the abortion rate has dropped significantly in recent decades. Unfortunately, the reality of unwanted pregnancies is still gloomier than Judge Alito imagines.

Related: Resources for safe access to abortion and reproductive rights

Economic insecurity of people with unwanted pregnancies

In 2018, a revolutionary study was conducted: A study of the mental health not of people who have had an abortion, but of people who have been denied abortions because they have crossed the gestational age limit. Conducted by a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, The Turnaway Study highlighted several difficulties routinely faced by people forced to conceive on time. One of the main findings of the Turnaway study? That “denying a woman an abortion creates economic difficulties and insecurities that last for years.”

In 2016, the Gutmacher Institute found that almost half of abortion patients live below the federal poverty level, with another 26% considered low-income.

For them, abortion is objectively cheaper than raising a child. In contrast, being forced to have a child can mean years of extra expense, sending the parent even deeper into poverty. The Turnaway study also found that after being denied an abortion, women were 3 times more likely to remain unemployed than women who had an abortion. These lost wages and higher costs mean increased financial worries that can have significant long-term consequences for mental health.

Connected: Science confirms that having more than two children can be difficult for your brain

You are more likely to stay in touch with an abusive partner

Research also shows that it is harder for women to leave a partner who is abusive after having a baby with that partner. Data from The Turnaway Study show that experiencing partner violence is one of the reasons some women seek an abortion if they become pregnant. Between 6% and 22% of women who have an abortion report recent intimate partner violence.

“In particular, women who report violence as a cause of abortion describe that they do not want to expose children to violence and believe that the birth of a baby will tie them to a violent partner,” Roberts et al. Wrote in 2014.

The inability to access abortion care and the continuation of pregnancy means that women are more likely to remain in contact with physical violence for another two and a half years. The impact of intimate partner violence on mental health is significant, ranging from guilt and shame to conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What happens to the children that the parent already has?

A 2019 follow-up survey using data from the Turnaway Study found that restricting women’s access to abortion could have negative consequences for the development and economy of children they already have. And since 60% of women seeking an abortion are already mothers, these consequences are a major factor for many families.

“One of the main reasons people say they want to have an abortion is to be a better parent to the children they already have,” said Ushma Upadhyay, a professor with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health in University of California, San Francisco. , to The New York Times.

Up to four and a half years after abortion refused, children of mothers who were unable to have an abortion had lower average developmental outcomes and were more likely to live below the federal poverty line than children of mothers who were unable to have an abortion. have sought and obtained an abortion.

The mental health of the parents is directly related to the social, emotional and behavioral development of the child. Research also shows that when parents’ mental health suffers, it is a major predictor of distress and mental health concerns later in their child’s life.

Related: A major factor in child development? The attitude of the mother

Risk of future physical and mental problems

No pregnancy is without the risk of potential complications, and restricting access to abortion forces some pregnant women to continue their pregnancy until birth, “leaving them facing the many health risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth,” notes ACOG. “This includes the emergence of new complications related to pregnancy and the worsening of existing conditions.” For black women, these risks of pregnancy are much higher: they are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.

There is also a direct link between physical and mental health. Living with a chronic physical condition such as diabetes or heart disease makes people more likely to experience anxiety and depression.

And because women seeking abortion are more likely to live below the federal poverty level, it also follows that they may not have access to health care, making the risk of future physical health problems much more serious. .

Pregnancy is generally a time of increased risk of mood disorders, especially if you have a history of depression or other mental illness. And because postpartum depression affects 1 in 8 women, the postpartum period is also a critical time for increased health support.

Ultimately, “Pregnancy and childbirth can be traumatic in the best of circumstances,” Dr. Elizabeth Nederton, a psychiatrist at Mindpath Health, told Verywell Health.

Related: What might the abolition of Roe v. Wade mean for those experiencing pregnancy loss

Denial of access to abortion affects mental health

“There are a lot of negative consequences associated with refusing an abortion to someone who wants one,” said Kiki Freeman, CEO of Hey Jane, a digital abortion clinic. “[The Turnaway Study] found that among those who were refused an abortion, there were higher cases of poorer economic and mental health than those who had an abortion. For example: those who were denied an abortion immediately experienced higher levels of anxiety, low self-esteem and reduced life satisfaction, “she said.

Conversely, a 2020 study analyzing data from The Turnaway Study found that almost all people who had an abortion five years later reported that it was the right decision for them, even if the decision was difficult. take at this time.

Abolishing a person’s access to health care – and abortion is health care, according to ACOG – immediately burdens someone with significant mental health consequences.

“This debunks the idea that most women suffer emotionally from abortion,” said Corinne Roca, PhD, MPH, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UCSF and the first author of the 2020 study in a statement.

The authors of the Turnaway study estimate that more than 4,000 women give up abortions each year. That number will only increase after the states pass gestational abortion laws or ban abortions altogether if Rowe v. Wade is repealed.

When women have access to a desired abortion, they are more likely to have a positive outlook for the future and achieve ambitious life plans within a year. But a woman’s refusal to have an abortion leads to economic difficulties and uncertainty – often for many years to come.


Foster DG, Raifman SE, Gipson JD, Rocca CH, Biggs MA. Effects of wear and tear on unwanted pregnancies up to term on women’s existing children. J Pediatr. 2019; 205: 183-189.e1. doi: 10.1016 / j.jpeds.2018.09.026

Foster DG, Ralph LJ, Biggs MA, Gerdts C, Roberts SC and Glymour MA. Socio-economic outcomes for women who receive and women who are denied requested abortions. American Journal of Public Health January 2018

Kamis C. The long-term impact of parental mental health on the suffering trajectories of adult children. Society and mental health. 2021; 11 (1): 54-68. doi: 10.1177 / 2156869320912520

Roberts SC, Biggs MA, Chibber KS and others. Risk of violence from a man involved in pregnancy after receiving or refusing an abortion. BMC Med 12, 144 (2014). doi: 10.1186 / s12916-014-0144-z

Rocca CH, Samari G, Foster DG, Gould H, Kimport K. Emotions and the right decision for five years after abortion: A study of decision-making difficulties and the stigma of abortion. Social sciences and medicine. March 1, 2020; 248: 112704. doi: 10.1016 / j.socscimed.2019.112704

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