Five years

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ARI­ANA EUNJUNG CHA ari­[email protected]­post.com

af­ter hav­ing an abor­tion, most women say it was the right move, a study found.

There’s been quite a lot of re­search about women’s emo­tions im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing an abor­tion. Some ex­pe­ri­ence sad­ness, guilt and anger; oth­ers feel relief. For many, it’s a mix of all these and more. But what about in the long term?

Re­searchers from the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at San Fran­cisco delved into this ques­tion in an anal­y­sis of 667 women re­cruited from 30 sites across the coun­try as part of the Tur­n­away Study — a land­mark body of re­search about how abor­tion af­fects women phys­i­cally, so­cially, emo­tion­ally and eco­nom­i­cally.

Start­ing one week af­ter their abor­tions and then twice yearly af­ter that, the women were asked about their feel­ings. The au­thors said they won­dered about stigma and how the women would re­flect on their de­ci­sions as time passed.

What they found was a sur­prise: Over time, all emo­tions, good and bad, faded.

“A re­ally in­ter­est­ing find­ing is how the in­ten­sity of all emo­tions is so low,” said Corinne Rocca, lead au­thor of the study and a UCSF as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ob­stet­rics, gy­ne­col­ogy and re­pro­duc­tive sciences.

A week af­ter their abor­tions, about 51 per­cent of women ex­pressed mostly pos­i­tive emo­tions, 17 per­cent ex­pressed neg­a­tive emo­tions, and 20 per­cent said they had none or few. As time went by, the num­ber who felt few or no emo­tions rose sharply. At the five-year mark, 84 per­cent re­ported ei­ther pri­mar­ily pos­i­tive emo­tions or none at all, while 6 per­cent had pri­mar­ily neg­a­tive feel­ings. There was “no ev­i­dence” of new neg­a­tive or pos­i­tive emo­tions, the au­thors said.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter their abor­tions, 95 per­cent of those who agreed to in­ter­views said they had made the right de­ci­sion. At five years, that per­cent­age in­creased to 99 per­cent.

Rocca pointed out that a woman’s feel­ings of re­gret and her judg­ment that an abor­tion was the cor­rect de­ci­sion for her un­der the cir­cum­stances are dif­fer­ent things: “You can feel the emo­tion of re­gret, yet feel you did what was right for you.”

The study au­thors also weighed in on the po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of their work. They wrote that their find­ings “chal­lenge the ra­tio­nale for state-man­dated coun­sel­ing pro­to­cols . . . and other poli­cies reg­u­lat­ing ac­cess to abor­tion premised on emo­tional harm claims (e.g. wait­ing pe­ri­ods).”

“What this study is show­ing is that there is a small mi­nor­ity who do re­gret their abor­tions,” Rocca said. “I in no way want to re­duce the strug­gles of those who re­gret their abor­tions, but it is mis­guided to take away the op­tions for ev­ery­one based on this mi­nor­ity.”

That con­clu­sion is un­likely to be ac­cepted, how­ever, by op­po­nents of abor­tion rights, who have crit­i­cized the Tur­n­away Study by say­ing it uses an un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple.

In a 2018 pa­per in Li­nacre Quar­terly, the ethics jour­nal of the Catholic Med­i­cal Associatio­n, an­tiabor­tion ac­tivist David C. Rear­don de­scribed how more than two-thirds of the women ap­proached for the study re­fused to par­tic­i­pate. Of those who agreed, half dropped out. Those who re­ported the high­est rates of relief and hap­pi­ness were the ones most likely to re­main, he ar­gued. Those who re­ported the least relief were most likely to drop out, he said.

The study sam­ple “is clearly bi­ased toward a sub­set of women who ex­pected the least neg­a­tive re­ac­tions to their abor­tion, ex­pe­ri­enced the least stress rel­a­tive to dis­cussing their abor­tions, and per­haps may even have ex­pe­ri­enced ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits from talk­ing about their abor­tions with re­searchers who af­firmed the ‘right­ness’ of their abor­tion de­ci­sions,” he wrote.

The au­thors re­sponded by say­ing they rec­og­nize that the rel­a­tively low par­tic­i­pa­tion rate “might elicit ques­tions about se­lec­tion bias.” How­ever, they wrote that a 38 per­cent re­sponse rate among women seek­ing a “stig­ma­tized” health ser­vice is in line with other stud­ies and that they have “no rea­son to be­lieve women would se­lect into the study based on how their emo­tions would change over five years.”

Launched in 2008, the Tur­n­away Study’s main goal is to ex­am­ine two dis­parate groups: women who had abor­tions, and those who sought to ter­mi­nate their preg­nan­cies but were “turned away” be­cause they were past the ges­ta­tional lim­its set by the clin­ics and ended up car­ry­ing to term. The av­er­age age of the women at the time of their abor­tions was 25. Sixty-two per­cent were al­ready moth­ers, and the mean ges­ta­tional age was 15 weeks.

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