The topic of the psychological wellbeing of women who have abortions has long been weaponised in the debate regarding legislation for abortion, and has, at times, been used as tactic for warning people against abortion. Here’s why that argument is FALSE, and why a YES TO REPEAL protects women’s mental health.
The idea that pro-life organisations are “saving the unborn” is also DEBUNKED by these stats, and supported by The World Health Organisation, the no.1 authority on health, a specialized agency of the United Nations which was established on 7 April 1948 and currently employs 7000 people working in 150 country offices with the sole focus of working purely with the realities of the world’s healthcare.
Whatever your views on abortion, this article is purely to inform. You may greatly dismayed with, and disagree with the act of abortion, as is absolutely your right, but when it comes to the upcoming referendum, I want you to know what you are voting for, or against, from a factual perspective. (Side note – If you strongly believe abortion should be stopped, the only proven way (after decades of international research) to decrease abortion rates is through sex education and easier access to contraception. I beg that you channel your anti-abortion passion into these useful, preventative endeavours).
- The mass majority of psychological and medical research supports the view that having an abortion does NOT negatively impact on mental health.
A meta-analysis of 225 studies showing the adverse sequelae (e.g., distress, dysphoria) that occur in a minority of women seem to be the continuation of symptoms that appeared before the abortion (Dagg, 1991).
More recent studies show that negative responses to abortion are mostly social. Kimport, Foster, and Weitz (2011) found that two social aspects of the abortion experience produced, exacerbated or mitigated respondents’ negative emotional experience.
- The 8th Amendment CAUSES emotional distress to women
However, the lack of access to abortion and the act of having to travel overseas, usually in secret, to attain an abortion created a very negative emotional response. In addition, the illegality of abortion and stigma around it did not dissuade women from seeking abortion. It did, however, create added emotional, financial and personal difficulty for the women in this position. The lack of autonomy the 8th creates is more likely to negatively impact a woman’s emotional wellbeing that clear choices, backed by a supportive system in place including pre and post abortion counselling. Negative outcomes were experienced when the woman did not feel that the abortion was primarily her decision (e.g., because her partner abdicated responsibility for the pregnancy, leaving her feeling as though she had no other choice) or did not feel that she had clear emotional support after the abortion. The study concluded that experiencing decisional autonomy or social support reduced respondents’ emotional distress (Kimport et al., 2011).
- The 8th Amendment does not stop abortion. It only stops SAFE abortion.
According to the World Health Organisation, legality of abortion does not affect abortion rates. Ireland has the same abortion rates as other European countries, they are simply less safe and more difficult to obtain. Be they ARE obtained, at any cost. Worldwide, women who wish to terminate unwanted pregnancies will seek abortion at any cost, even when it is illegal or involves risk to their own lives (Sedgh et al., 2012).
- The 8th Amendment has created an environment where UNSAFE medical abortion occurs.
Evidence from various countries, including some with highly restrictive abortion laws, suggests that the use of the drug misoprostol as an abortifacient has been spreading and there are a number of known websites which provide Irish women with this drug. This is done in secrecy and without doctor’s instruction. This needn’t be the case if we repeal.
- The 8th DOES NOT PREVENT ABORTION.
Studies from the World Health Organisation repeatedly show that restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates, and in fact the abortion rate is lower in regions in which women live under liberal abortion laws, but restrictive abortion laws do lead to greater numbers of unsafe abortion (Sedgh et al., 2012). This is likely true of the Irish context, with Irish authorities seizing 1’216 abortion tablets in 2009 alone. This suggests that the actual number of abortions Irish women are having is much higher than those indicated by the figures presented by the NHS. . According to Sedgh (2012), self-administering abortion pills is classified as unsafe abortion.
- Making Abortion a political issue instead of a personal one TRAUMATISES women
Irish family planning counsellors hold that the client is lost in the political debate, and their needs and the reality of abortion in Ireland is not being addressed. Counsellors believe that secrecy, stigma and lack of support in Irish society all contribute to extra difficulties for Irish women. Counsellors reported that the polarization of political and social discourse on abortion in Ireland has an adverse effect on women.
Frustration and anger with the obstacles and barriers faced, along with the stigmatization felt by women who do have abortions, are common emotions that women present with in pre and post abortion counselling. Counsellors hold that while women are generally accepting of their decision to terminate a pregnancy and usually feel a sense of relief, issues surrounding guilt and shame are created via the social context and public debate. Counsellors also believe that propaganda is confusing women about their emotions, making them question whether they should in fact feel guilt and shame instead of moving forward with their lives. Counsellors report that a recent resurgence in media coverage, anti-abortion propaganda and political debate has brought women into counselling who had not previously sought post-abortion counselling. Counsellors believe that this propaganda and discourse is negatively impacting on women who have had abortions (Farrell, 2013).
- Protesting Abortion DOES NOT DETER women from their decision to terminate
Counsellors do not, however, believe that protesting and propaganda deter women from seeking abortion, but simply make it more difficult and upsetting. The obstacles faced by Irish women are also extremely frustrating for the counsellor, particularly when it comes to very much wanted pregnancies that are unviable due to fatal foetal abnormalities. Counsellors believe the lack of choices and autonomy that women face in relation to their reproductive rights in Ireland goes against the mental health professional’s ethos of support for a human being (Farrell, 2013).
These findings are reflective of the research by Boyle and McEvoy (1998), who concluded that while their findings reflect the bulk of research regarding the psychological issues surrounding abortion, in that abortion in itself is not emotionally damaging, the difficulties faced in relation to abortion are intensified in the Irish context where abortion is illegal.
- Women’s health often cannot be fully cared for by their GPs under the 8th Amendment.
Due to the illegality of abortion and the stigma surrounding abortion in Ireland, women may not disclose having had an abortion to their GPs and other healthcare providers, with anecdotal evidence of women travelling out of their county altogether just to obtain advice and information on abortion.
Counsellors report that abortion secrecy is a very burdensome problem for Irish women, and fear of revealing a previous abortion to their medical provider is common. These findings are similar to the research by Logsdon and colleagues (2012), who found that a perception of judgment from the regular health care provider may also prevent women from disclosing a previous abortion, causing a disruption in continuity of care. Boyle and McEvoy (1998) also found this to be the case in their study of Northern Irish women, stating that the level of secrecy which Northern Irish women felt was demanded of them may have important implications for access to medical services after the abortion.
- The 8th Amendment contributes to abortions occurring at later gestational periods.
While 90% of abortions worldwide occur at embryonic stage (prior to 12 weeks) the difficulties caused by the 8th Amendment in relation to travelling for abortion can greatly delay (but not deter) abortion. Counsellors report that travel costs are also a very big issue, along with other logistics facing women who must travel, such as finding childcare and time of work. This is reflective of the study by Becker and colleagues (2011). While counselling is about helping women come to terms with having chosen to have an abortion, counsellors also believe that abortion would be less traumatic with acceptance reached sooner if women did not have the extra obstacle of having to travel to obtain abortion. Some counsellors believe that women would actually take more time with deciding the best course of action for them in relation to their options around a crisis pregnancy. Counsellors also believe that the extra barriers Irish women face in obtaining abortions perpetuates stigmatization which creates emotional difficulties for their clients. While the barriers do not deter women from obtaining abortion, they exacerbate the difficulty of the situation and make it a more distressing experience, according to counsellors. Terminations are happening in later stages of gestation because more logistical and financial factors need to be in place before the abortion can occur. Counsellors also report that many women are undergoing surgical abortion instead of medical abortion so that they can get back to Ireland more quickly, often because they cannot afford to stay away from home longer than one day, while the abortion pill (medical abortion) requites overnight monitoring (Farrell, 2013).
- The current laws around abortion are both CLASSIST and RACIST. Those without the means to travel must go to more dangerous lengths to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
It is more difficult for women with less means, both financial and in relation to support. Counsellors report that some women are not just self-administering the abortion pill, but going to more dangerous lengths to terminate. This is a particular problem for migrant women who do not have access to travel visas, with counsellors reporting knowledge of unsafe abortion practices among migrant women (Farrell, 2013). Counsellors report that asylum seekers with refugee status and migrant women with visas that do not allow EU travel have fewer options, delaying the abortion process and/or leading to situations where women are using pills, ‘herbs’ and backstreet abortions, all of which are deemed as unsafe (Sedgh et al, 2012)
- ABORTION IS SAFE AND NO IMPEDIMENT TO FUTURE FERTILITY
Despite the strong and lengthy history of evidence attesting to the physical safety of abortion, anti-abortion activists frequently charge that the procedure threatens women’s future fertility and is a particular risk factor for breast cancer. Neither is true. Abortion foes cite research that suggests that abortion can cause infection or injury, sometimes undetectable at the time of the abortion, which in turn increases women’s risk of preterm and low-birth-weight delivery. Those studies, however, typically fail to account for the fact that factors such as a history of sexually transmitted infection may be more common among women who have unintended pregnancies (and thus abortions) and may lead to premature delivery among women giving birth. The preponderance of evidence from well-designed and well-executed studies shows no connection between abortion and future fertility problems. Several reviews of the research conclude that first-trimester abortions pose virtually no long-term fertility risks—not only for premature and low-birth-weight delivery but for infertility, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage and birth defects as well. The evidence is less extensive when it comes to repeat abortion and second-trimester abortion, but the research indicates that the claims of abortion opponents are unfounded.
As for the link between abortion and breast cancer, researchers have studied for years whether the abrupt hormonal changes caused by interrupting a pregnancy alter a woman’s breast in a way that increases her susceptibility to the disease. Until the mid-1990s, the research findings were inconsistent. Abortion opponents seized upon a 1996 analysis that combined the results of numerous flawed studies and concluded that having an abortion did elevate the risk of cancer. However, data from this analysis were unreliable, because they were collected only after a diagnosis of cancer. Furthermore, rather than relying on medical records, the researchers asked the women themselves whether or not they had had an abortion, a process that would be expected to lead to more complete reporting of a prior abortion by women with cancer than by women who did not have cancer.
In 2003, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) convened more than 100 of the world’s leading experts on the topic of abortion and breast cancer. After a lengthy and exhaustive review of all of the research, including a number of newer studies that avoided the flaws of their predecessors, they concluded that “induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk,” noting that the evidence for such a conclusion met NCI’s highest standard. In 2004, an expert panel convened by the British government came to the same conclusion (Cohen, 2006)
Becker, D., Diaz-Olavarrieta, C., Juarez, C., Garcia, S. G., Sanhueza Smith, P., & Harper, C. C. (2011). Sociodemographic factors associated with obstacles to abortion care: Findings from a survey of abortion patients in mexico city. Women’s Health Issues, 21(3), S16-S20
Boyle, M., & McEvoy, J. (1998). Putting abortion in its social context: Northern Irish women’s experiences of abortion in England. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 2(3), 283-304.
Cohen, A. (2006). Abortion and Mental Health: Myths and Realities. 9(3). The Guttmacher Institute.
Dagg, P. K. (1991). The psychological sequelae of therapeutic abortion—denied and completed. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 148(5), 578-585
Farrell, B. 2013. “It’s amazing what women will put themselves through”. An exploration of Irish women’s abortion experiences from the viewpoint of their reproductive health counsellors. Dept. of Psychology, University College Dublin.
Fletcher, F. (1995) Silences: Irish Women and Abortion. Feminist Review, No. 50, The Irish Issue: The British Question(50), pp. 44-66.
Furedi, A. (Ed.). (1995). The Abortion Law in Northern Ireland: Human rights and reproductive choice. Belfast: Family Planning Association Northern Ireland.
Irish Family Planning Association (March 1998). Facing up to reality: An Irish Family Planning Association submission to the Interdepartmental Working Group on Abortion. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Family Planning Association.
Kimport, K., Foster, K., & Weitz, T. A. (2011). Social sources of women’s emotional difficulty after abortion: Lessons from women’s abortion narratives. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 43(2), 103-109.
Kimport, K. (2012). (Mis)understanding abortion regret. Symbolic Interaction, 35(2), 105-122
Logsdon, M. B., Handler, A., & Godfrey, E. M. (2012). Women’s preferences for the location of abortion services: A pilot study in two Chicago clinics. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 16(1), 212-216.
Sedgh, G., Singh, S., Shah, I. H., Åhman, E., Henshaw, S. K., & Bankole, A. (2012). Induced abortion: Incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008. The Lancet, 379(9816), 625-632.
Smyth, L. (1998) Narratives of Irishness and the Problem of Abortion: The X Case 1992. Feminist Review, 60, Feminist Ethics and the Politics of Love pp. 61-83