Do Women Regret Having Abortions?

Study Finds Nearly All Believe it Was the Right Choice Over Time

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Political and legal arguments that seek to limit women's access to abortion often use the logic that the procedure is an emotionally dangerous one that leads to distressing feelings of regret. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy used this logic to uphold a 2007 ban on late-term abortions, and others have used it to make arguments in support of laws regarding parental consent, mandatory ultrasound viewing, and waiting periods prior to the procedure.

Though previous research had found that most women felt relief immediately following the termination of pregnancy, no study had ever examined the long-term emotional effects. A team of social scientists lead by Drs. Corinne H. Rocca and Katrina Kimport of the Bixby Center for Global Public Health at the University of California-San Francisco have done just that, and found that a full 99 percent of women who abort pregnancies report that it was the right decision not just right after the procedure, but consistently over three years following it.

The study was based on telephone interviews with 667 women recruited from 30 facilities across the U.S. between 2008 and 2010, and included two groups: those who had first-trimester and later-term abortions. Researchers asked the participants if having the abortion was the right decision; if they felt negative emotions about it like anger, regret, guilt, or sadness; and if they had positive emotions about it, like relief and happiness. The first interview took place eight days after each woman initially sought the abortion, and follow-ups occurred roughly every six months over three years. The researchers looked at how responses evolved over time among the two groups.

The women who participated in the study averaged 25 years of age when their first interview took place, and were racially diverse, with about a third white, a third Black, 21 percent Latina, and 13 percent of other races. The survey noted that more than half (62 percent) were already raising children, and more than half (53 percent) also reported that the decision to have an abortion was a difficult one to make.

Despite that, they found near unanimous results across both groups showing that women consistently believed that having an abortion was the right decision. They also found that any emotions associated with the procedure--positive or negative--declined over time, suggesting that the experience leaves very little emotional impact. Further, the results show that women thought about the procedure less frequently as time passed, and after three years thought about it only rarely.

The researchers found that women who had planned pregnancies, who had a hard time deciding to abort in the first place, Latinas, and those neither in school nor working were less likely to report that it was the right decision. They also found that perception of stigma against abortion in one's community, and a lower level of social support, contributed to an increased likelihood of reporting negative emotions.

The findings from this study are deeply important because they invalidate a very common argument used by those who seek to limit access to abortion, and they show that women can be trusted to make the best medical decisions for themselves. They also show that negative emotions related to abortion stem not from the procedure itself, but from a cultural environment hostile to it.