A new study suggests most women actually feel relief — not regret — after having an abortion
In the ongoing social debate centered on abortion, one rebuttal that often comes up is regret. If you’ve been paying attention to the dialogue, you’ve undoubtedly heard an argument against abortion that involves women and non-binary people being plagued by their decision. And yes, studies have surfaced that support the presence of a range of emotions in the immediate moments after ending a pregnancy, spanning from sadness to respite and many in between.
But as far as long-term feelings go, the references have effectively relied on an invisible case study. In other words, there haven’t been any hard numbers to support the idea that regret is a prevailing emotion post-abortion, and one that lingers years or decades after the fact. Statements about long-term emotions after an abortion have largely been anecdotal… until now. As it turns out, it isn’t regret that the majority of women surveyed are filled with years after having an abortion.
On Sunday, one of the largest studies to date about women’s emotions after an abortion was published in the Social Science & Medicine journal. Called the Turnaway Study, it explored findings by researchers from the University of California at San Francisco who recruited 667 women from 30 areas across America to weigh in on the effects of abortion physically, socially, emotionally and economically.
The study wasn’t a one-off question, either. Beginning one week after their abortions, researchers asked the women about their feelings twice yearly for five years. A week out, around 51 percent of women expressed mostly positive emotions about their abortion, 17 percent felt negatively, and 20 percent said they felt little at all about it.
An interesting note is that even with the percentage of negative emotions or apathy the week after an abortion, 95 percent of women surveyed said they made the right decision. Corinne Rocca, lead author of the study and a UCSF associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, pointed out that this is a salient reminder that regret and conviction are not mutually exclusive. “You can feel the emotion of regret, yet feel you did what was right for you,” Rocca said.
The responses the women surveyed gave as the years went on further supported that early conviction. At the five-year mark, 99 percent of women felt they had made the right decision — with 84 percent expressing primarily positive emotions or none at all. By that five-year mark, only 6 percent had primarily negative feelings.
The study comes at a time when the rights of women and non-binary people are in danger of being legislated to the umpteenth degree. In December, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal to challenge a Kentucky law requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds and show fetal images to patients before abortions. Other recent legislation surrounding women’s rights and the rights of non-binary people include mandatory counseling and waiting periods before having an abortion — with the latter citing “regret” and lasting emotional damage as justifications.
“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 Rocca, adding that quite the opposite is true. “One might think that relief was a short-term feeling that would go away after weeks, but it does not fade like other feelings. Relief was constant.”
Not surprisingly, the findings have already received pushback from abortion rights opponents. In 2018, anti-abortion activist David C. Reardon argued in a paper published by the Linacre Quarterly that the study was performed with bias. His claim? More than two-thirds of the women approached for the study refused to participate, so the ones who did were logically the ones most likely to feel positive about their abortions.
However, per The Washington Post, the study’s authors countered, saying that a 38 percent response rate in a study centered on a highly “stigmatized” health service is “in line with” other studies of merit.
The authors were also quick to point out that there is nothing wrong with the study participants — and any other women or non-binary people — who feel regret in the years following an abortion. “I in no way want to reduce the struggles of those who regret their abortion,” underscored Rocca. “But it is misguided to take away the options for everyone based on the minority.”