SAN FRANCISCO — Abortion is a controversial topic, and the findings of a recent study that followed up with women who had undergone an abortion in the past are sure to be controversial as well. According to research by the University of California in San Francisco, 95% of surveyed women said their abortion was the right decision five years after having the procedure. Even those who struggled with the decision at the time, felt good about their choice after years had passed.
This research, of course, comes at a time when many states are instituting mandatory waiting periods and counseling for women seeking abortions, based off of the assumption that many will ultimately regret going through with the procedure.
UCSF’s findings, on the contrary to these assumptions, show absolutely no evidence that it’s common for women to regret having an abortion. After five years, 84% of participating women had positive feelings about their abortion, or had no feelings at all on the matter. Overall, participants said their positive or negative feelings about their abortion diminished over time.
“Even if they had difficulty making the decision initially, or if they felt their community would not approve, our research shows that the overwhelming majority of women who obtain abortions continue to believe it was the right decision,” says first author Dr. Corinne Rocca, associate professor in the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, in a university release. “This debunks the idea that most women suffer emotionally from having an abortion.”
The researchers used data from the Turnaway Study, a five-year research project designed to shed light on the socioeconomic and health consequences experienced by nearly 1,000 women in 21 states who had sought abortions. Dr. Rocca’s analysis included 667 women from the Turnaway Study who followed through with an abortion. They were surveyed one week after they sought care, and every six months afterwards, adding up to 11 surveys in total for each woman.
While most of the women didn’t regret their decision, many struggled to make it in the first place. Over half of the cohort said their decision to terminate their pregnancy was “very difficult” (27%) or “somewhat difficult” (27%). On the other hand, 46% said the decision was not difficult for them. Approximately 70% said they expected to be stigmatized by their communities if people knew they had sought an abortion. In actuality, 29% reported low levels of community stigma, and 31% reported high levels.
The women who struggled with their decision were more likely to feel sad, guilty, and angry shortly after the abortion procedure. As time moved on, though, the portion of women reporting negative emotions dropped quickly, especially over the course of the first year after terminating their pregnancy. This was true even for those who initially struggled to make their decision.
The most prominent emotion reported by women at the end of the study was relief.
“This research goes further than previous studies, in that it follows women for longer, and was conducted on a larger sample from many different clinics throughout the U.S.,” says Julia Steinberg, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of family science at the University of Maryland. “It shows that women remain certain in their decision to get an abortion over time. These results clearly disprove claims that regret is likely after abortion.”
The study is published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.