Do Women Hurt After Abortion

Note: I generally prefer to be more inclusive, and use the term “pregnant people/person”. However, throughout this, I will sometimes use the term “women hurt” in response and reference to the “Women Hurt” slogan being used by pro-life campaigners.

A frequent claim by pro-life groups is that “women hurt” after abortion, and that these women are ignored or marginalised by Repeal campaigners. I wanted to look into this, to see what the statistics said about how people felt after abortion.

Having looked into it, I’m certain that this claim (like many others) does not hold much water.

There have actually been numerous studies to examine how people feel about their decision to have an abortion. One study in the US, which examined both people who had early terminations, and people who had terminations closer to the term limits for abortion, found that 95% of those questioned felt that abortion was the right choice for them. 95%. 90% of people in this study felt relief that they were able to obtain an abortion. Even when people who had an abortion felt primarily negative emotions, like regret and sadness, more than 80 percent still said that it was the right choice.

And this isn’t the only study. Here’s another, with similar results – its conclusion notes that “The finding that the incidence rate of psychiatric contact was similar before and after a first-trimester abortion does not support the hypothesis that there is an increased risk of mental disorders after a first-trimester induced abortion. In fact, study after study supports this.

Every time people are asked, in all the countries they have been asked, they report that abortion was the right choice. 

Another article (about a paper in British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology) notes that far from hurting, the only regret expressed by Irish women who obtain abortion pills online is “that they are having to do something that is illegal in their country. They express anger and disappointment that they could not access a safe, legal abortion and felt they were treated as second-class citizens.”

These studies don’t report 100% percent of people, and a frequent claim is that the 5% of women who do hurt are ignored. What about the other 5%? The women who hurt, who the pro-life campaign claim are not being acknowledged by the campaign?

Well, some people do experience negative feelings after and abortion. Why? Because of negative social attitudes, low social support, stigma. This study talks about how higher perceived community stigma about abortion was associated with negative feelings. And this is a whole thesis exploring the impact of this stigma on the mental wellbeing of people who have accessed abortion.

In other words, “women hurt” because pro-life campaigners stigmatise their decision. In other words, “women hurt” because pro-life campaigners lie about statistics and cultivate an atmosphere of shame.

The negative feelings people have after abortion are associated with an atmosphere which stigmatises people who have abortions, and which does not support or care for people after abortions. When you cultivate an atmosphere which shames people for making choices about their reproductive health, it is inevitable that some people will feel ashamed. People need support after abortion the same way any individual needs support after making an important life decision, and when they don’t get that, they may hurt. Not because of the abortion, but because of how they are isolated by those who stigmatise abortion.

The issue of emotional hurt is difficult because abortion (like all decisions surrounding reproduction) is a highly personal experience. There is another aspect to address, however, and it is the issue of physical hurt. There are many claims about the physical after-effects of abortion which have been repeatedly shown to be false.

So what about physical hurt? The ARC says that abortion has fewer risks at any stage than pregnancy and they are not alone in saying this. 0.23% of all abortions in the US lead to major health complications. That’s less than 1%. Less than 1/4 of 1%, in fact. It is an incredibly safe procedure. Nor is there any evidence to support a link between abortion and any of the conditions to which it has been falsely linked. Abortion doesn’t increase your risk of cancer, or affect your fertility.

Moreover, pregnancy and birth are not without risks. Here is an excellent thread by a nurse which discusses some of the risks associated with pregnancy and birth (please click through to twitter to read in its entirety):

These images say that “no one told me I would suffer after my abortion” but that’s not true. Pro-life campaigners regularly tell people they will suffer, and imply that they should. They cultivate an atmosphere of shame and stigma which discourages people from speaking openly about abortion. Women don’t hurt because of abortion, they hurt because of the lies that are told about why they choose abortion. They hurt because of the aspersions that are cast on tough decisions they have made. They hurt because they are repeatedly told that they must. It’s not ok.

Overwhelmingly, the evidence says that a majority of people do not hurt, physically or emotionally, after abortion. Those who do have their hurt exacerbated by people who lie about abortion statistics, and who cultivate an atmosphere of shame and stigma about their reproductive decisions. I acknowledge that some people may regret their decision, just as individuals may regret any major life decision, but I will not contribute to the regret they may feel with half-truths or lies about what they have done. People deserve better than this. People deserve the support of their friends, family, and community when they go through difficult times, and denying them this support is what truly makes women hurt.