Restricting access to abortion likely to lead to mental health harms, APA asserts

Washington — The American Psychological Association is deeply concerned regarding the emerging possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will eliminate the constitutional right to obtain an abortion, citing decades of research demonstrating the harm to women’s mental health if abortions are outlawed or made more difficult to obtain.

“Rigorous, long-term psychological research demonstrates clearly that people who are denied abortions are more likely to experience higher levels of anxiety, lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem compared with those who are able to obtain abortions,” said APA President Frank C. Worrell, PhD. “In addition, there is no research to indicate that abortion is a cause for subsequent mental health diagnoses.”

APA was reacting to the leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion indicating that a majority would vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Should the court overturn Roe, the states would determine whether abortion is legal within their jurisdictions.

Someone’s ability to control when and if they have a child is frequently linked to their socioeconomic standing and earning power. Therefore, laws restricting access to safe, legal abortions are most likely to affect those living in poverty, people of color, and sexual and gender identity minorities, as well as those who live in rural or medically underserved areas, Worrell added. Research also suggests that adding barriers to accessing abortion services may increase symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.

“The number of unsafe abortions is likely to increase when laws limit access to reproductive health care,” Worrell said. “And there is a strong relationship between unwanted pregnancy and interpersonal violence. Specifically, psychological science suggests that the inability to obtain an abortion increases the risk for domestic abuse among those who are forced to stay in contact with violent partners, putting them and their children at risk.”

APA has long been a strong and consistent voice for equal access to reproductive health services. The association has passed four policies or resolutions since 1969 affirming a woman’s right to choose and negating assertions regarding the alleged adverse psychological effects of abortion. APA has also filed 11 amicus curiae briefs in cases involving abortion.

For more information regarding APA’s advocacy and the science surrounding abortion and reproductive health, visit the abortion and mental health webpage.

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