No Regrets: The Truth About Abortions

There is a misleading belief that abortion is psychologically damaging, increasing a woman's risk of mental illness and suicide.

On May 1, a ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy took effect in Florida. The Sunshine state is just the most recent state to severely restrict abortion care. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, many states have followed suit. The aim of these restrictive laws is to discourage women from having this procedure.

Yet, surprisingly, these barriers have not resulted in a reduction in the number of abortions in the U.S. According to Isaac Maddow-Zimet, of the Guttmacher Institute, “There were 1,026,700 abortions in 2023. That's the highest number in over a decade, [and] the first time there have been over a million abortions provided in the U.S. formal health care system since 2012,” Dr. Anitra Beasley, an OB-GYN and professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was not involved in the study, “thinks the true number is even higher than what was measured in the report.”

The fact that the number of abortions continues to rise is counterintuitive given that access to abortion has been severely restricted in more than a dozen states since the last time Guttmacher published a comprehensive national count. But we can see that misinformation travels at near light speed via the internet. Women have to seek out websites like this one that hunt down reliable sources and avoid propaganda like the plague .

Deciding to have an abortion is a big step, one full of questions and fears. Will I be able to get pregnant after I have an abortion? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly 57% of women who received abortions in 2019 were in their 20s, and may want to get pregnant again someday. “I am 35, will having an abortion affect my ability to conceive in the future? If I am already a parent will having an abortion affect my chances of having children in the future?” The Guttmacher Institute also notes that 59% of abortions are obtained by people who are already parents.”

According to the American Cancer Society, scientific research studies have also not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists puts it this way: ”No. Abortion does not cause breast cancer. Evidence has shown that there is no causal link between breast cancer and abortion.”

Another frightening and misleading belief is that abortion is psychologically damaging, increasing a woman's risk of mental illness and suicide.

According to a 2009 journal article by the American Psychological Association, “The majority of adult women who terminate a pregnancy do not experience mental-health problems. Across studies, the prevalence of disorders among women who terminated a pregnancy was low, and most women reported being satisfied with their decision to abort both one month and two years post-abortion.”

In sharp contrast, “Restricted access to abortions may have increased the risk of suicide among women of reproductive age for more than four decades,” new research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests.

Though suicide deaths are rare, they are the second leading cause of death among women ages 20-24 in the U.S. and the third leading cause among women ages 25-34.

A study published in JAMA Psychiatry “found that abortion restrictions may have played a role in some suicide deaths among younger women from 1974 to 2016.”

A further erroneous belief is that most women regret their abortions.

Actually being denied a wanted abortion leads to more anxiety than receiving an abortion. A study of women who sought an abortion found that short-term stress levels were highest for those who were refused treatment and proceeded to parent.

According to the ACOG, “Over 95% of women surveyed five years after having an abortion reported that it was the right decision for them. Only you and your chosen health care professional can make the decision that’s right for you, your health, and your life.”

Another widely circulated belief is that women who have had abortions risk preterm deliveries in future pregnancies.

According to PubMed, “Except for the association between pregnancies following dilatation and evacuation procedures and premature delivery and low birthweight, no significantly increased risk of adverse reproductive health has been observed following induced abortion.

Women will continue to have abortions, and they need to rely on doctors and scientists to make sure they don’t needlessly experience anxiety due to scary misinformation.

The net effect of all the fear mongering and disinformation is not to dissuade women from having abortions, but to needlessly heighten their anxiety, perhaps leading them to delays that may in turn cause poor health outcomes.

Unfortunately, misinformation about abortion is extremely pervasive, increasing concern and apprehension among patients as well as doctors.

Restrictive “laws put both the physician and patient in the position of just standing there to ‘watch somebody get sicker and sicker and sicker until some point – and where is that point? – where it's OK to intervene and we won't be exposed to criminal liability,’ asks King, who is vice chair of ACOG's Committee on Ethics.

About the Authors:

Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C Barnett are winners of the Casey Medal for Excellence in Journalism and a Goldsmith Grant from Harvard University. Dr. Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University and Dr. Barnett is a senior scholar at Wellesley College.