The Mental Health implications of restricted access to Abortions

Abortion, the medical or surgical termination of a pregnancy, is one of the oldest, most common, and yet one of the most controversial medical procedures to exist. In recent times, from the time the speculations around the future of the Roe v Wade legislation began until it was recently overturned in the United States, a global conversation has sparked up around the issue of abortions. The Roe v Wade has garnered a lot of attention around how it being struck down will now have devastating implications for individual’s freedom, economic safety and physical health, but one aspect we need to look at more is that around Mental Health.



When it came to all these conversations around Roe v Wade, there was a stance which was given by those who identified as ‘pro-life’ who said that abortions have negative impacts on the Mental Health of the pregnant person; but one thing which was ignored in the entire narrative was that restricting an individual’s right to making their own decisions around abortions would have even greater negative implications for their Mental Health. In this piece we will briefly look at this aspect around abortions which doesn’t get too much attention - the mental health impact on those who opt to have an abortion while also examining a greater issue, the implications of not having access to them, especially owing to legal restrictions.


When we look at the Mental Health implications of having an abortion, different individuals will experience different emotions around this as each person’s case and circumstances will be unique. Their emotions can range from relief, calm, loss of self-confidence, shame, guilt, isolation and loneliness, sadness, grief, regret to name a few. Individuals can experience a range of psychological and emotional responses as a result of their decision. While many might experience grief and loss, especially if they pictured themselves as parents, regretted that the pregnancy came at a difficult time in their life or had formed a picture of their baby which might make the loss feel more deep, if individual’s are provided an outlet to express their emotions, these feelings usually eventually diminish over time. There might also be some who feel like they have lost a part of themselves, an important relationship or the notion of themselves as being ‘perfect’ people. In some extreme cases, individuals might also struggle with thoughts of suicide or might experience self-harm. It is often the stigma around abortions which makes it harder for individuals to cope as they may not have anyone who they can share their emotions or experiences with.


Now let us look at the Mental Health implications of banning or restricting access to abortions as these can be far more grave. We cannot ignore the fact that this can lead to anxiety, fear, depression or even PTSD amongst people. Research has shown that within 1 week of being denied an abortion, women reported higher levels of anxiety, stress along with lowered self-esteem and life satisfaction when compared to those who had access to and received the abortion they sought. Additionally, for those who were already dealing with Mental Health issues, not allowing them access to an abortion can make their psychological situation even worse. This lack of bodily autonomy and losing a sense of agency can have negative implication for Mental Health, and this has also been seen in individuals who were not just denied abortions but also in those who were made to go through mandatory wait periods before receiving an abortion. Even for those who might not be actively looking to get an abortion, rules which take away their reproductive rights and human rights negatively impacts their Mental Health as they feel devalued as human beings and disrespected. Additionally, for those seeking abortions, they might struggle to speak to others or their Mental Health professionals in fear of being reported to law-enforcement and might also fear being judged or looked at as irresponsible or criminal. In situations like this where they are unable to exercise their right over their own bodies, it can lead to greater chances of postpartum mental health issues as well.


For those who will struggle or face barriers to seek abortions will also experience added distress which can have harmful effects on their psychological health. Research has also shown the impacts of unwanted pregnancy on people's lives - those who were denied abortions dealt with several years of financial turmoil as a result which impacted both the financial security of their children and their own Mental Health as caretakers. For those who might be pregnant unwillingly or under traumatic situations like rape, abuse or incest, being unable to access an abortion can be a continued stressful trigger as they are being forced into going ahead with something which is dangerous and distressing. Banning abortions will not only affect those who are pregnant and force them to carry unwanted pregnancies which can further lead to added intergenerational trauma, but even for those who are not pregnant may live in worry of the consequences of what might happen if they don't have a choice when they are pregnant. For those who might be managing a pregnancy which they cannot terminate while living in unhealthy and unsafe relationships can lead to higher rates of depression and profound Mental Health impacts while also magnifying the trauma associated with abuse, rape, sexual abuse or incest which resulted in the pregnancy.


There may be several reasons why an individual might consider or need an abortion and depending on their final decision, they will experience a range of emotions. What we need to remember is that not only do we need to create safe spaces for people to share what they are going through but to also ensure that individuals have a sense of bodily autonomy and a free choice in matters which concern them.

 

Written by: Vedica Podar


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July, 2022