How we talk about abortion.
TW: Mentions of Self Harm/ Suicide
Trump's presidency brought many drastic changes to our nation, one of those being an overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court. With this comes one major insecurity for those who believe in the right to abortion: the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned. This possibility inevitably brings debate about the constitutionality and morality of abortion to the forefront of political discourse. While these aspects are important, what often goes overlooked is the actual effects that not having access to abortion has on women*. Notably, mental health effects are not explored. Not only is restricting access to abortion an infringement of bodily autonomy, but it's also an attack on women's mental health.
While many mental health issues relating to lack of access to abortion occur postpartum, the nine-month journey to get to that point isn't unaffected. Women's mental health often takes a hit during pregnancies that they are forced to carry to term. El Salvador, a country in which abortion has been banned since the late 1990s, is a prime example of this. According to Amnesty International, their strict laws have intertwined physical and mental effects. Physically, women attempt to end pregnancy with medieval tactics such as ingesting rat poison or performing invasive abortions with knitting needles or pieces of wood. Performing hazardous medical procedures on oneself is highly traumatic, which is detrimental to one's mental health and physical. This can be seen through statistics, with 57 percent of pregnant Salvadorian females aged 10 to 19 resulting in suicide. El Salvador is a prime example of how restricting abortions lead to unsafe conditions and impacts mental health, leading to worst-case scenario outcomes.
Additionally, after women carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, mental health issues are likely to be an issue. While postpartum depression is a risk with any pregnancy, it is an issue that disproportionately affects women denied an abortion. According to the National Library of Medicine, women who carry out unwanted pregnancies are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression than those who planned to be pregnant. This illness's effects, including depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, and suicidal ideation, are detrimental to women. Suicidal ideation from PPD is a particularly deadly issue, as suicide is a leading cause of death during the postpartum period. This means that women forced to carry out pregnancies are more likely to experience the worst effects of postpartum depression. The bottom line is that banning access to abortion creates a situation where women suffer from life-threatening mental health issues.
Not only does abortion create mental health issues, but it is also linked with domestic violence. If a pregnant person is experiencing abuse, not being able to access abortion care can put their safety in jeopardy. Geffard writes that for between 6 and 22 percent of women wanting to end their pregnancies, the cause is fear of further violence from a partner. According to Biomedical Central, having a child significantly restricts one's ability to be independent, so carrying out unwanted pregnancies can keep women in contact with violent partners, putting them at risk of violence. Therefore, If women are denied an abortion and stay in abusive situations, women not only have to deal with physical danger but also the trauma that comes with abuse. This shows another angle at which mental health is jeopardized because of a lack of access to abortion.
In essence, denying people access to abortion has detrimental effects on their mental health, often not discussed. Decisions about abortion should center on those affected and consider how they are affected. Political and religious issues must be put second to women's wellbeing. With this approach, more relevant discussions, and thus better decisions, can be made about abortion.
****Most, if not all, legislation and studies on this topic don't consider that gender is not binary. Of course, not everyone who can get an abortion is a woman. Still, to keep in line with how almost all legislation and studies are written, a woman refers to a person who can get an abortion.