Can Elective Abortions Increase the Risk for Future Anxiety Disorders?

Nearly four decades have passed since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision which invalidated all state laws which limited a woman’s access to an abortion during the first trimester of her pregnancy. The case effectively legalized abortion in the United States, and gave women the power to make decisions regarding their reproduction. Since that time, the abortion debate has raged on, between the human rights of the unborn versus the reproductive rights of women. Many Americans sit firmly on one side or the other, while many more find themselves unwilling to impose their own beliefs on others. Unfortunately, while recognizing a woman’s right to choose, the fact that abortion can harm women in physical, psychological, relational and cultural ways has gone largely unnoticed.

“Rare and Safe?”

One of the arguments used during the Roe v. Wade dispute was the claim that a legal abortion was to be much favored over a “back alley” abortion which could actually end up killing the woman due to unsafe or unsanitary conditions. It was claimed that if women had ready access to a legal abortion, then her health would be protected, and the number of procedures would actually go down. In truth, the procedure is not much safer all these years later, and few are addressing the psychological fallout many women suffer as a result of their abortion. A 1992 survey concluded that over ¾ of women who had undergone an abortion felt victimized in some way by the process-they either felt they had been coerced into the decision or that alternatives to an abortion or facts about the actual procedure had been withheld. Despite legalization, there remained-and remains-an incredibly stigma for women who have had an abortion.

How Women Really Feel

Despite our era of sexual freedom for women, few women truly feel liberated when they have sex with a man, thinking (as women tend to think) that it binds them to the man in an emotional manner. When she ends up pregnant, and he indifferently hands her $400 for an abortion, her heart is broken and she is left to deal with the short and long term medical and mental consequences of the decision. Even women who feel they suffered no psychological issues as a result of their abortion will often be stunned to have those feelings rise up years-or even decades-after the fact.

Science Documents Abortion’s Mental Risks to Women

A study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that women who opted for an abortion in the face of an unintended pregnancy were over thirty percent more likely to report moderate to severe symptoms of generalized anxiety disorders than those women who carried their pregnancy to term despite the fact it was unplanned and unintended. Even more chilling is that according to both the British Medical Journal and the Southern Medical Journal the risk of death by suicide is between 2 and 6 times higher for women who opted for abortion in the face of an unplanned pregnancy as opposed to women who carried the pregnancy to term.

Abortion and Mental Trauma?

There is an ever-increasing understanding of abortion as a potential mental trauma which can manifest itself immediately, later, or gradually over time. The studies have shown that the variable of having had an abortion in response to an unintended pregnancy made a significant contribution to mental health outcomes-even more so than a past which included rape, sexual abuse in childhood, physical assault in adulthood or neglect in childhood. The final conclusion was that women who have undergone abortions are at a much higher risk of anxiety, including panic attacks, panic disorder, agoraphobia and PTSD, mood disorders and substance abuse disorders when compared with women who had not had an abortion.

A portion of the results of this study could conceivably be due to the fact that a fairly large percentage of women feel the need to conceal an abortion from loved ones, contributing to the incidence of anxiety disorders-we all know how stressful keeping secrets can be. In any case, though it may be largely ignored, abortion definitely does bring long-term consequences for many women, although a similar study made on women forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term could discover similar findings of depression and anxiety.  Unwanted pregnancies either way often turn into a no-win situation for the woman–which could then be another argument for sex education and affordable birth control options.

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