Over the years there has been much back and forth about how abortion affects a woman's mental health. From the feminism of the 1960s to the current "safe, legal and rare", we rarely hear about abortion without it being tied to a woman's state of mind. Back in the 1960s, women needed the right to abortion to get rid of their traditional role as mother and caretaker; today we hear countless politicians talk about how hard it is to make the decision to have an abortion.
Recently, mandatory counseling laws have been enacted to expand informed consent to, often, uninformed consent - telling women that abortion causes breast cancer or that she is killing a separate human being. Some of these mandatory counseling laws include provisions about how depressed a woman will be after an abortion (not how depressed she may be...she may also feel elated).
"The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult
women who have an unplanned pregnancy, the relative risk of mental
health problems is no greater if they have a single elective
first-trimester abortion or deliver that pregnancy," said Brenda Major,
PhD, chair of the task force. "The evidence regarding the relative
mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more
The task force found that some studies indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion, and some may experience "clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety." However, the task force found "no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors."
The report noted that other co-occurring risk factors, including poverty, prior exposure to violence, a history of emotional problems, a history of drug or alcohol use, and prior unwanted births predispose women to experience both unwanted pregnancies and mental health problems after a pregnancy, irrespective of how the pregnancy is resolved. Failures to control for these co-occurring risk factors, the task force noted, may lead to reports of associations between abortion history and mental health problems that are misleading.
The report noted that women have abortions for many different reasons and within different personal, social, economic and cultural circumstances, all of which could affect a woman's mental state following abortion. "Consequently," the task force wrote, "global statements about the psychological impact of abortion can be misleading."
According to the report, women terminating a wanted pregnancy, who perceived pressure from others to terminate their pregnancy, or who perceived a need to keep their abortion secret from their family and friends because of stigma associated with abortion, were more likely to experience negative psychological reactions following abortion.
Of course there are lots of women who regret having an abortion, some who become dedicated anti-choice crusaders, like Leslee Unruh. But that doesn't mean that abortion is the wrong choice for everyone and will permanently scare the psyche of every woman (or that only people who have had multiple abortions can support a woman candidate). In fact, if a woman freely chooses abortion and isn't judged for it, it sounds like she'll be much better off. So yes, the pro-choice movement should be involved in post-abortion counseling, but for my money, I'd prefer pre-abortion counseling. This counseling could not only make sure that a woman understands the medical procedure she's about to have, but make sure that she's not being coerced, that she has a support system, that if she has drug, alcohol or violence problems in her life that she is referred for help. These are the efforts we can make if we're interested in improving mental health for women having abortions.
[Edited because I just saw Linda Hirschman's column in Slate about the Democratic Platform, this issue, and the whole "abortion is hard" b.s. and you should too.]