Majority of women who have an abortion don’t regret it five years on

The majority of women who have an abortion don’t regret their decision. The finding rebuts the idea that mental distress is commonplace, which is often the basis of laws that require women to have cooling off periods after requesting an abortion, says Corinne Rocca at the University of California, San Francisco.

Abortion is a political battleground in the US, with many states having introduced laws that restrict access. In eight states abortion providers must provide women with materials informing them that the procedure will cause lasting emotional harm, and in 27 states women who request an abortion have to wait for a compulsory cooling off period, usually of 24 hours, before they can have the procedure. When Ireland legalised abortion last year, it mandated a three-day cooling off period, partly to allay fears women would experience regret.

The latest study was based on telephone surveys Rocca’s team conducted with 667 women who had abortions across 21 US states that have a variety of laws. The first interview took place about a week after the abortion, and the women were interviewed again semi-annually for up to five years.

About half the women said in retrospect that the decision to have an abortion had been a difficult one to make at the time, but five years later 99 per cent said it had been the right one. When asked about their feelings five years on, 84 per cent of the women said they either had mainly positive emotions or no emotions about the procedure. The rest said their feelings were negative.

The findings could have been biased by the fact that only 38 per cent of those asked to take part in the survey accepted, and women who felt more negatively about their decision might have been less likely to participate. However, Rocca says the results are similar to another study where women who had an abortion answered questions about their emotions just before their procedure.

Rachael Clarke at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, an abortion provider, says the findings chime with what doctors see. “Even the people that report it making them feel sad at the time didn’t feel they made the wrong decision,” she says. “It might make you sad, like ending a marriage can be sad, but it still might be the right thing to do.”

Journal reference: Social Science and Medicine, DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112704

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