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.