The day the Americans knew was finally coming. Rowe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that created a constitutional right to abortion, has disappeared.
In many ways we know what that means. More than half of American women live in states that are hostile to abortion rights. They will lose access to abortion in the coming weeks and months. The majority of those seeking abortion care live below the poverty line and will find it difficult to travel to places where the procedure is legal. Reproductive justice activists are struggling to meet these urgent needs by organizing support for abortion funds and coordinating travel to other countries.
Yet there is a little-discussed aspect of access to abortion that can have lasting consequences: its impact on mental health. Research tells us that refusing an abortion leads to a deterioration in mental health in the short term and that it increases the likelihood of living in poverty and being attached to a violent partner, neither of which is good for well-being.
Beyond these facts, the decision should make us wonder – and explore – what happens when women and people who can become pregnant live in a country where abortion care is no longer as difficult to obtain as it is now. is in many states, but are banned with rare exceptions.
Rowe v. Wade was overturned by a historic Supreme Court ruling
Will the Supreme Court ruling and subsequent government bans lead to a low level of fear for people who may become pregnant but know they do not have the resources to travel elsewhere if they need an abortion? Will it increase concern for black women, trans women, and non-binary people who know they can be targeted and criminalized if they run an abortion on their own? Such questions will be difficult to answer without rigorous research designed to separate the complex factors that affect a person’s mental health, but we urgently need to better understand what this decision means for people’s well-being.
Dr. M. Antonia Biggs, Ph.D., associate professor and senior researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who studied what happens to women’s mental health when they do not have access to abortion, suspects that the decision will lead to more poor emotional state and psychological experiences.
“It’s essentially a loss of bodily autonomy, which is not good for people’s mental health,” said Biggs, a social psychologist.
Her research found that when women were denied an abortion, they initially had higher levels of anxiety and lower self-esteem than those who had the procedure. While these differences fade between six and 12 months later, women who are forced to give birth subsequently experience longer-term physical health problems and financial insecurity. They are more likely to live in poverty, experience financial difficulties and be with a violent partner. These are disturbing cascading effects that increase the risk of experiencing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s essentially a loss of bodily autonomy, which is not good for people’s mental health.”
There is no point in looking at the data and suggesting that abortion is what harms people’s mental health, which its opponents insist. When I wrote on this topic in 2017, a number of experts told me that this idea is based on debunked and erroneous research. One even told me about anti-abortion researchers: “They make wrong conclusions and really bad science, if you can even call it science.”
Those who fought to overturn deer for years or decades you may feel personal relief or even joy now, but this is a perverted excuse to offer to anyone who is afraid of getting pregnant and being forced to give birth.
The Biggs study also found that women who had an abortion were more likely to perceive stigma and more likely to experience psychological stress years later. She believes that pregnant people may perceive the new government bans as stigmatizing, increasing their chances of feeling worse in the future. A preliminary finding from the study, which needed further investigation, revealed that those who were required to disclose information about seeking or receiving abortion care, usually because they needed assistance in paying for this and related travel costs also had negative mental health symptoms.
“There are so many complicating effects of abortion that affect so many aspects of your life,” Biggs said. “It’s amazing and incredibly sad to think about that.”
Imagine, too, the reality that many pregnant people living in a country where abortion is banned may be alone in their struggles, worried that discussing the possibility of seeking care elsewhere could be used against them. We know that emotional isolation is painful, but the Supreme Court ruling ensures that countless pregnant people will feel more lonely than ever before. We must not forget them, because they deserved much better than that.
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