A new study reveals that what pro-choice advocates have known for a long time is true: there is no connection between abortion and depression in teens. The study was inspired by claims that there are causal links between abortion, depression and regret, which were mostly discounted by a 2008 study released by the American Psychological Association. The APA study did not, however, make claims about mental health consequences for adolescents, so this study is an important addition to a body of work that proves that psychological preparation is not a necessary prerequisite for abortion access.
As Jodi Jacobsen points out in a piece for RH Reality Check, this knowledge does not deter states from legislating that women receive counseling or warnings about the potential negative consequences of abortion. It also seems to be deeply embedded in lawmakers’ assumptions, to the point where Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing in a 2007 decision to uphold the ban on partial-birth abortions, presented these negative consequences as logical, if unsubstantiated:
“While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort…Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.”
Jacobsen points out that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 34 states currently require that women receive counseling before an abortion is performed. This is despite the fact that, in the words of the study authors, “Consistent with previous studies of abortion and psychological outcomes, the strongest predictors of depression and low self-esteem were prior depression and prior low self-esteem.” In other words: the people who were likely to be depressed or suffer from low self-esteem following an abortion were people who were already depressed. This means that the abortion itself in all likelihood had nothing to do with any negative mental health consequences.
The truth is that the stories about negative psychological impacts only serve as a an anti-choice deterrent for women for whom abortion may already be heavily stigmatized or portrayed as frightening. Being told that depression is a possible consequence will make women think twice about whether they want an abortion – regardless of whether it’s true. But we can hope that this study will serve as good ballast for people who are trying to take down this particular piece of anti-choice mythology.
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