My abortion didn't make me crazy

Carla Axtman

For years after I had an abortion, I wondered if something was wrong with me. Not because I felt unhappy or depressed or sad, but because I didn't. I'd heard and read from so many anti-choice organizations that abortion was a traumatic experience which caused women to spiral downward. But that didn't happen to me. In fact, I experienced feelings of relief in the knowledge that I wasn't going to have a baby when I wasn't ready.

As I came to discover, none of my friends or acquaintances who shared their abortion experiences with me had any trauma either. In fact, their post-abortion feelings were largely the same as mine.

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine now offers comprehensive scientific data that abortions in fact don't cause mental health issues:

Danish researchers looked at the health records of 85,000 women who had had first-trimester abortions. Those women were more likely to seek mental health treatment while they were pregnant, but didn't need more help after having the abortion. That's not surprising, says Nada Stotland, a professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical College in Chicago. She says that women considering abortion are often struggling with problems with a partner or family members.

"People have abortions often under troubled circumstances," she said. "You have an abortion because there is a problem."

What makes this study unique is that it looked at women who chose abortions and also looked at women who chose to have the baby. Stotland says this gives us a much better picture of the stresses of abortion and childbirth.

"Above all it really fairly contrasts the outcomes of abortion with the outcomes of pregnancy," she said.

The women who decided to have babies were doing great while they were pregnant. For some, that picture changed when they became mothers. Trine Munk-Olsen, the scientist who led the Danish study, says they saw a sudden spike in new mothers who needed help with severe mental disorders, including psychosis and depression after delivery.

That's true not just in Denmark. As many as 25 percent of new mothers experience post-partum depression. It's a significant public health problem. Blum says that new mothers need much more help.

So as it turns out, had I given birth instead of having an abortion I'd be much more likely to have mental health trauma.

The scare and shaming tactics by anti-choice organizations are designed to force women into carrying on with an unwanted pregnancy. Laws such as state-mandated counseling and waiting periods would seem to be more appropriate for those who choose to give birth, rather than those who don't. And for those states enacting extra nasty guilt and shaming techniques, they're just adding to the problem.

There was obviously a good reason I wanted the government and religious institutions to stay out of my uterus. I just didn't know it until later.

Comments

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    I appreciated reading this viewpoint, Carla.

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    Thanks for this Carla...I greatly appreciate your courage and your compassion!

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    Thank you, Carla.

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    I appreciate you sharing your story, Carla, and the perspective you have come to in sharing it with other women who have undergone an abortion procedure.

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    Thank you Carla. We don't need, in this country or in the world, more unwanted, neglected, abused, and at-risk children. This problem fuels every other problem that the world faces.

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    This is a powerful and brave article. Thank you very much for posting it Carla. Oregon is lucky to count you among our citizens.

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    Wow Carla, you always find new ways to impress me and most people with IQ's above 15.

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    first, Carla: thanks for the honesty. i'm sure you'll get some less positive feedback before too long, because... 2nd, your abortion will likely make anti-choice people crazy. your refusal to fit the meme undermines another one of their lies.

    again, thank you.

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    OK, so I'll bite....

    What then was it that made you crazy?

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      Gee, Rob. You've never struck me as a guy who would minimize and joke about an issue as serious as this one.

      Learn something every day.

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        Aw gee Kari, I'm pretty sure Carla can handle a little teasing. But, indeed, cheers to you Carla for adding your own story to the chorus of people who also were relieved to have reproductive choice when they needed it!

        Being obviously pregnant and going through all the modern experiences made me understand a bit more people's strong emotions on the topic, but I remain staunchly pro-choice. When it comes to abortion, best legislation is not to have any (except assuring it is freely accessible, of course).

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      Ah, but she's not crazy. She doesn't believe the fairy tales of global warming deniers. She doesn't think that preventing bullying is a bad idea. She doesn't believe that cutting the current tax rate will increase government revenue.

      Many conservatives, on the other hand...

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        Sure, classy like your headline. Can you give me a single example anywhere of where an abortion opponent said that women might be "made crazy" by an abortion?

        After having gone overboard to be patently offensive, pardon me if your rebuke to my making fun of your headline matters not at all to me.

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            OK I understand now. In Carla-World, "mental health problems" = insanity.

            Thanks for clearing that up.

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              Oh..I understand now: Rob Kremer acted like a jackass and he's not man enough to own up to it.

              Thanks for clearing that up.

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            Oh, sorry, I thought he was just teasing in good fun. Guess not.

            But, I can add to your argument -- my good friend Jocelyn Warren did her dissertation research right here in Oregon debunking the myth that adolescent abortion leads to future depression. Her published study (in International Perspectives on Reproductive Health) showed there was no statistical association between adolescent abortion and subsequent depression. Because unintended pregnancy is associated with other risk factors for depression (low socio-economic status, poor parental supervision, previous abuse, etc.) anti abortion activists have claimed that abortion simply leads to depression. In fact, poverty, low academic achievement, poor parental involvement, community violence, etc., explain the depression, not the abortion. This is a common mistake among folks who aren't using higher level analytic strategies to control for the confounding variables. That's why we need academic researchers working on these questions and doing the statistical modeling and analysis that surely confounded ME.

            Early chidbirth can condemn young women to their too often disadvantaged circumstances, when their non-parenting peers have more options for education/employment and longer term economic security (which also makes us happier!)

            And, one the primary strategies of anti abortion advocates is to convince the public that "these poor women" need to be protected from a future of depression by having a waiting periods, requiring the viewing of an ultrasound, requiring the doctor to give in accurate information about the risk of future depression, etc. They are trying to say this is mental health issue, when their is no evidence of that whatsoever.

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          Next time, Rob, I'd suggest reading past the headline before commenting.

          In her second sentence, Carla wrote, "unhappy or depressed or sad".

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    Thanks for this post, Carla. Much appreciated.

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    FWIW, if you Google "abortion trauma," you find scads of the kinds of articles Carla was talking about. Excessive literalism is just one of the ways disingenuous debaters try to dodge the issue. For everyone without an axe to grind, Carla's point was crystal clear.

    And this research is going to cause a big problem for those with axes to grind....

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