How forced pregnancy affects mental health

When a leaked document announced the end Roe v. Wade, forced the nation to confront its highly polarized views on abortion. Abortion is defined as any procedure used to terminate a pregnancy. Some people fear that losing access to legal abortions will increase the risk of attempting to terminate a pregnancy. Others argue that abortions should be reserved for extreme risk cases — and sometimes not even then.

Many arguments against abortion are based on religious or moral convictions. However, others fear that having an abortion can lead to long-term distress, not only physically, but also mentally. They believe that abortions do not cause relief, but depression, anxiety, guilt and embarrassment.

What these arguments do not take into account is the reverse: that no having an abortion, or being forced to have an unwanted pregnancy, can lead to a variety of physical, mental, social, economic, and emotional difficulties. Here, we look at how the proven effects of forced pregnancies affect mental health.


It is important to first understand why abortion advocates celebrate abortion Roe v. Wade. In the leaked draft, Judge Samuel Alito presents several counter-arguments as grounds for annulling the decision. “On behalf of Americans who believe that abortion should be restricted,” he said.

“Attitudes about the pregnancy of unmarried women are noticeably changing 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, and that the costs of pregnancy-related medical care are covered by insurance or government benefits; States have increasingly adopted safe haven laws that generally allow women to leave babies anonymously; and the woman who is now adopting her newborn has little reason to fear that the child will not find a suitable home. ‘

It is true that many parents acquire more resources and technology than they did in the 1960s. It is also true that abortion rates have fallen sharply in recent decades. Unfortunately, the reality of an unwanted pregnancy is even harsher than that presented by Alito Justice.

Related: Safe access to abortion and resources for reproductive rights

Economic insecurity for people with unwanted pregnancies

In 2018, a pioneering study was conducted: not the mental health research of people who had an abortion, but rather denied because abortions exceeded the age limit of pregnancy. The Turnaway Study, conducted by a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, shed light on the difficulties people face in getting pregnant. One of the main findings of the Turnaway Study? “Denying a woman an abortion creates economic hardship and insecurity that lasts for years.”

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

For them, abortion is objectively more expensive than it would be to raise a child objectively. Conversely, being forced to have a child can lead to additional costs over the years, sending the parent into even more poverty. The Turnaway Study also showed that after denying the desired abortion, women were 3 times more likely to be unemployed than women who had an abortion. Increased lost wages and expenses lead to increased financial concern, which can have a significant impact on long-term mental health.

Related: Science confirms that having more than two children can be difficult for the brain

It’s more about contacting your abusive partner

Research has also shown that it is more difficult for women to abuse their partner after having a baby. Data from The Turnaway Study show that experiencing partner violence is a reason to ask for an abortion if some women become pregnant. Of the 6% of women who have an abortion, 22% report the recent abuse of a partner.

“In particular, women who report violence as a reason for abortion describe that they do not want to be abused by children and believe that having a child will link them to spousal abuse,” wrote Roberts, et al., 2014.

The inability to receive abortion care and the continuation of pregnancy means that women are more likely to continue in physical abuse for another two and a half years. The mental health effects of partner violence are significant, ranging from feelings of guilt and shame to conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What happens to a parent who already has children?

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

“One of the main reasons people complain that they want to have an abortion is because they are better parents of their existing children,” says Ushma Upadhyay, a professor of Advanced New Reproductive Health Standards at the University of California, San Francisco. , New York Times.

Up to four-and-a-half years after denying an abortion, children who were unable to receive an abortion had lower average developmental scores and were more likely to seek and receive one who was less likely to live below the Federal Poverty Level. abortion.

Parental mental health is directly related to a child’s social, emotional, and behavioral development. Research also shows that when parents experience mental health, it is a major predictor of stress and mental health concerns later in their child’s life.

Related: An important factor in a child’s development? Mother’s mindset

Risk of future physical and mental health problems

There is no risk of possible pregnancy complications, and restricting access to abortion forces some pregnant women to continue to give birth until they are pregnant, “so that they can cope with the many health risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth,” ACOG said. “This includes the emergence of new complications related to pregnancy and the deterioration of existing conditions.” For black women, these risks of pregnancy are much higher: they are 3 or 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.

There is also a direct link between physical health and mental health. Living with a chronic physical condition such as diabetes or heart disease is more likely to lead to anxiety and depression.

And because women seeking abortion are more likely to live below the Federal Poverty Level, they may not have access to health care, making the risk of future physical health problems much more serious.

Pregnancy is generally a time to increase your risk of mood disorders, especially if you have depression or mental health. And since postpartum depression affects 1 in 8 women, the postpartum period is also a critical time to increase health care.

After all, “Pregnancy and childbirth can be traumatic at best,” Dr. Elisabeth Netherton, a psychiatrist at Mindpath Health, told Verywell Health.

Related: Roe v. The wade revolution may be for those who are suffering from pregnancy loss

Denial of access to abortion affects mental health

“There are a lot of negative consequences associated with denying abortion to anyone who wants it,” says Kiki Freeman, Hey Jane, director general of the digital abortion clinic. “[The Turnaway Study] they found that among those who were denied abortion, there were more cases of worse economic and mental health than those who received it. For example, those who were denied an abortion immediately had higher levels of anxiety, low self-esteem and reduced life satisfaction, ”she said.

Conversely, a study of data from The Turnaway Study 2020 found that almost everyone with an abortion reported a right decision five years later, even though it was difficult to make a decision at the time.

Withdrawing a person’s access to health care — and abortion is health, according to the ACOG — immediately puts someone with a significant impact on mental health.

“This condemns the idea that most women suffer emotionally from having an abortion,” says Dr. Corinne Rocca, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at MPH, UCSF and the first author of the 2020 study, in a statement.

The authors of the Turnaway Study estimate that more than 4,000 women refuse abortion each year. This number will only increase when states pass abortion abortion laws, or completely ban abortion in Roe v. If Wade is revoked.

When women are able to get the abortion they want, they are likely to have a positive outlook on the future and get the life plans they want within a year. But denying a woman an abortion can lead to financial hardship and insecurity, which can often take many more years.


Foster DG, Raifman SE, Gipson JD, Rocca CH, Biggs MA. Consequences of leading to unwanted pregnancy in pregnant 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. They wanted abortions for the socioeconomic outcomes of the women they receive and the women they are denied. American Journal of Public Health January 2018.

Kamis C. The long-term effect of parental mental health on children’s anxieties 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 a man involved in 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 the right decision after an abortion over five years: a study of the difficulty of the decision and the stigma of abortion. Social sciences and medicine. March 1, 2020; 248: 112704. doi: 10.1016 / j.socscimed.2019.112704

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