There is a New York City subway ad that has always caught my eye. Plastered to the inside of the trains is a poster depicting a disheveled, lonely-appearing teenage girl. She’s crouched over grabbing her knees, her face pensive. The dialogue below reads something like, “FREE ABORTION ALTERNATIVES,” as if every pregnant teenager has no choice but to have an abortion. The irony of the ad, which is paid for by an anti-choice organization obviously, is that they are, after all, advocating choice: You have a choice. You don’t have to get an abortion.
What’s more obvious however, is that this subway girl is suffering. You can see it in her face. Her distressed eyes warn of a widely feared side effect to abortion: regret, or more academically, post-abortion traumatic stress syndrome. This is the message you’re meant to take away after your 10-minute ride with her--abortion, like war, will psychologically screw you up for the rest of your life. With absolutely no scientific evidence to the contrary, at least in teenagers, no one can argue with this--until now.
This week, researchers at Oregon State University and the University of California, San Francisco (a powerhouse of family planning research), announced the connection between teenage abortions and depression or low self-esteem is completely ungrounded.
The study, which looked at over 300 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, found there was no difference in psychological outcomes between pregnant teenagers who chose to terminate and those who chose to continue their pregnancies. The data remained consistent immediately following, one year after, and five years post-abortion.
According to the authors, the study’s findings have several public health and health policy applications, not least of which is influencing law makers to make informed, scientifically backed decisions regarding women’s reproductive rights.
For example, several U.S. states currently require health care providers to inform women wishing to terminate about the negative mental health impacts of abortion. (Now it’s clear where post-abortion traumatic stress syndrome gets some of its publicity.) This is despite appeals from the American Psychiatric Association, who stands by their guns, denying that such a diagnosis even exists.
"I cannot think of any other type of health practice where a doctor is forced by law to tell a patient about negative consequences that have not been proven or validated," said the study’s co-author, Marie Harvey, in the press release.
This study is hoping to change that. It’s the first of its kind to show that teenagers, although generally less experienced in other realms of life, can handle stress surrounding abortion just the same as stress surrounding a non-terminated pregnancy.
For more information on all pregnancy options and support throughout pregnancy, adoption or abortion, please visit: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/