How Forced Pregnancy Affects Mental Health

When a leaked document predicted the end of Roe vs Wade, the nation has been forced to confront its deeply polarized views on abortion. An abortion is defined as any procedure used to terminate a pregnancy. Some people worry that losing access to legal abortions will increase dangerous self-induced abortion attempts. Others believe that abortions should be reserved for cases of extreme danger and, sometimes, not even then.

Many arguments against abortion center on religious or moral beliefs. However, others fear that having an abortion leads to long-term discomfort, not only physical but also mental. They believe that abortion does not cause relief, but depression, anxiety, guilt and shame.

What these arguments don’t take into consideration is the flip side: that Not having an abortion, or being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, is more likely to cause a variety of physical, mental, social, financial, and emotional difficulties. Here, we will focus on how the proven consequences of forced pregnancies affect mental health.

The counter-argument

It is important, in the first place, to understand why abortion opponents are celebrating the passing of Roe vs Wade. In the leaked draft, Judge Samuel Alito presents several pervasive counter-arguments as grounds for overturning the decision. On behalf of “Americans who believe abortion should be limited,” he argues:

“They note that the attitudes of unmarried women regarding pregnancy have changed dramatically; that federal and state laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, that pregnancy and childbirth leave are now guaranteed by law in many cases, that the costs of pregnancy-related medical care are covered by state insurance or assistance; whereas states have increasingly adopted safe haven laws, which generally allow women to leave children anonymously; and that a woman who today gives her newborn baby up for adoption has little reason to fear that the child will not find a suitable home ”.

It is true that many parents have access to more resources and technologies than they would have in the 1960s. It is also true that abortion rates have dropped significantly over the past few decades. Unfortunately, the reality of an unwanted pregnancy is even darker than that presented by Judge Alito.

Related: Resources for Safe Access to Abortion and Reproductive Rights

Economic insecurity of people with unwanted pregnancies

A groundbreaking study was conducted in 2018: mental health research not of people who have abortions, but of people who denied miscarriages because they had exceeded the gestational age limit. Led by a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, The Turnaway Study highlighted several difficulties routinely faced by people forced to carry a pregnancy. One of the main findings of the Turnaway study? That “denying a woman an abortion creates economic difficulties and insecurity that last for years”.

In 2016, the Guttmacher Institute revealed that nearly half of aborted patients live below the federal poverty line, with another 26% considered low-income.

For them, having an abortion is objectively less expensive than raising a child. Conversely, being forced to have a child could mean years of additional spending, sending the parent even further into poverty. The Turnaway study also showed that after being denied a wanted abortion, women were 3 times more likely to be unemployed than women who had abortions. Those lost wages and higher expenses mean greater financial worries, which could have a significant impact on long-term mental health.

Related: Science confirms that having more than two children can be difficult on your brain

They are more likely to stay in contact with the abusive partner

Research also shows that it is more difficult for women to leave an abusive partner after having a baby with that partner. Data from The Turnaway Study shows that being abused by a partner is one reason some women seek abortion if they become pregnant. Anywhere from 6% to 22% of women who abort report recent abuse by an intimate partner.

“In particular, women who report violence as a reason for abortion describe not wanting to expose children to violence and believe that having the baby will tie them to an abusive partner,” write Roberts, et al., 2014.

Not being able to access abortion treatment and continuing the pregnancy means women are more likely to remain in physically abusive relationships for another two and a half years. The mental health impacts of intimate partner violence are significant and range from feelings of guilt and shame to conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What happens to children that a parent already has?

A follow-up review using data from the Turnaway study found that limiting a woman’s access to abortion can have negative developmental and economic consequences for the children she already has. And since 60% of women trying to have an abortion are already mothers, these consequences are a major factor for many families.

“One of the main reasons people report wanting to have an abortion is that they can be better parents for the children they already have,” says Ushma Upadhyay, Professor of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, al. New York Times.

Up to four and a half years after a denied abortion, children of mothers who could not have an abortion had lower mean development scores and were more likely to live below the federal poverty level than children of mothers who sought and received a abortion.

Parental mental health is directly linked to the child’s social, emotional and behavioral development. Research also shows that when a parent’s mental health suffers, it is an important predictor of distress and mental health problems later in the child’s life.

Related: an important factor in the development of the child? The mentality of the mother

Risk of future physical and mental health problems

No pregnancy is exempt from the risk of potential complications, and limiting access to abortion forces some pregnant people to continue their pregnancy until delivery, “leaving them to face the many health risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth,” notes ACOG . “This includes the emergence of new complications associated with pregnancy and the worsening of existing conditions.” For black women, the 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 connection between physical health 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 greater.

Pregnancy in general is a time of increased risk of mood disorders, especially if you have a history of depression or another mental health condition. And with postpartum depression affecting 1 in 8 women, the postpartum period is also a critical time for increased health support.

Ultimately: “Pregnancy and childbirth can be traumatic under the best of circumstances,” says Dr. Elisabeth Netherton, psychiatrist with Mindpath Health, at Verywell Health.

Related: What It Might Mean to Overthrow Roe v. Wade for those experiencing pregnancy loss

Denying access to abortion has an impact on mental health

“There are many negative consequences associated with denying an abortion to someone who wants it,” says Kiki Freeman, CEO of Hey Jane, a digital abortion clinic. “[The Turnaway Study] found that, among those denied abortion, there were higher cases of worse economic and mental health than those who received one. For example: those who were denied abortion immediately experienced higher levels of anxiety, low self-esteem and less satisfaction with life, ”she notes.

In contrast, a 2020 study that analyzed data from The Turnaway Study found that nearly all people who have an abortion report five years later that it was the right decision for them, even if the decision was difficult to make at that time. moment.

Removing a person’s access to health care – and abortion is health care, according to ACOG – immediately saddles someone with significant mental health effects.

“This dispels the notion that most women suffer emotionally from abortions,” says Corinne Rocca, PhD, MPH, associate professor in UCSF’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and first author of the 2020 study, in a declaration.

The authors of the Turnaway study estimate that more than 4,000 women are rejected from abortion every year. That number will only increase when other states pass gestational limit laws for abortion or ban abortion altogether if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

When women are able to access an intended abortion, they are more likely to have a positive outlook on the future and realize ambitious life plans within 1 year. But denying a woman an abortion causes economic hardship and insecurity, which will often last for many years to come.


Foster DG, Raifman SE, Gipson JD, Rocca CH, Biggs MA. Effects of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term on existing babies of women. 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 of the women who receive it and of the women who are denied the intentional abortion. American Journal of Public Health January 2018.

Kamis C. The long-term impact of parental mental health on children’s trajectories of distress in adulthood. Society and mental health. 2021; 11 (1): 54-68. doi: 10.1177 / 2156869320912520

Roberts SC, Biggs MA, Chibber KS, et al. Risk of violence by the man involved in the pregnancy after receiving or denying 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 decision-making correctness in five years after an abortion: an examination of the difficulty of decision and the stigma of abortion. Social sciences and medicine. 2020 Mar 1; 248: 112704. doi: 10.1016 / j.socscimed.2019.112704

abortion, health

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