WASHINGTON — One of the largest studies about women’s emotions after an abortion finds most feel relieved and don’t regret their choice, even if they struggled beforehand or worried about stigma.
The study, one of the largest to date on the topic, was published Sunday in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
Researchers found that at five years after having an abortion, only 6% expressed primarily negative emotions. The overwhelming majority of women surveyed — 84% — had positive emotions or no emotions whatsoever about their abortion decision, even if they hadn’t felt that way when they were making the decision to have an abortion.
Just over half the women in this survey said the decision to terminate the pregnancy was very difficult and 27% characterized it as “somewhat difficult.” About 46% said it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. Nearly 70% said they felt they would be stigmatized if people knew they had an abortion.
The women who said they struggled with the decision or felt stigmatized by it were more likely to report feeling guilt, anger or sadness immediately after the abortion, but over time, these feelings declined dramatically, sometimes even one year after the abortion.
The top emotion all the groups of women in the study said they felt at the end of the survey was relief. Relief was an emotion used to describe how they felt each time they were asked about it.
Researchers came to this conclusion after surveying nearly 1,000 women, and following up with them 11 times over a period of five years. They surveyed women who lived in 21 states a week after they had an abortion and then again every six months thereafter.
Over the past couple decades, researchers say, there has been an assumption that women will regret having an abortion.
An increasing number of states require counseling and waiting periods before a woman can have an abortion. Literature that some states require counselors to give a woman before having an abortion mention “regret” and lasting emotional harm. The idea has even shaped federal law. In 2007, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the US Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Carhart, that upheld the restriction on women’s right to certain abortion procedures, “it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.”
Researchers say the results of this study proves this notion is a myth.
“All the claims that negative emotions will emerge over time, a myth that has persisted for decades without any evidence to substantiate these claims, it’s clear, it’s just not true,” said study author Corinne Rocca, an epidemiologist and assistant professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Southern California, San Francisco.
This study builds on previous research that suggests that abortion does not contribute to feelings of regret in most women. Earlier research that looked at women’s feelings over three years after an abortion has shown that women experience decreasing emotional intensity over time, and that the overwhelming majority feel the decision was the right one.
The one thing Rocca said she found surprising about the results of her study was that regardless of how the woman felt before the abortion, what remained after five years, even after many of the other feelings subsided, the women felt relief.
“One might think that relief was a short-term feeling that would go away after weeks, but it does not fade like the other feelings,” Rocca said. “Relief was constant.”