In an effort to dismiss post-abortion trauma, pro-choice advocates often cite a study claiming 95 percent of women do not regret their abortions. Published in the PLoS One journal, media outlets such as ThinkProgress proclaimed, “This Study Should End The Debate About Whether Women Regret Having Abortions” shortly after its release.
The study reads:
“Women experienced decreasing emotional intensity over time, and the overwhelming majority of women felt that termination was the right decision for them over three years. Emotional support may be beneficial for women having abortions who report intended pregnancies or difficulty deciding.”
While the results appear conclusive, the authors have not settled the abortion debate, as numerous design flaws should cast doubt upon their findings.
The conclusion that only 5% of women experience post-abortion regret is overreaching at best and dishonest at worst. As the study admits: “Overall, 37.5 percent of eligible women consented to participate, and 85 percent of those completed baseline interviews… Among the Near-Limit and First-Trimester Abortion groups, 92 percent completed six-month interviews, and 69 percent were retained at three years; 93 percent completed at least one follow-up interview.”
This means 62.5% of women refused to participate in the study upon first request. Another 15% dropped out before or during the baseline interview. That leaves the participation rate at baseline at only 31.9%.
It’s inaccurate for the authors to claim their study reflects the abortion experiences of most women when over 60 percent of eligible women refused to partake in the study at baseline. A woman may have complicated feelings towards her abortion, and other post-abortive studies have shown women who decline to talk about their experience cite their reasoning as: “Do not want to talk about it. I just want to forget.”
The 31.9% of women participating were likely those who felt confident in their decision prior to the abortion and did not anticipate negative outcomes from it. Selection bias in the study becomes apparent, as even the authors noted, “Women feeling more relief and happiness at baseline were less likely to be lost [to follow-up].”
Given the large percentage of women who declined to talk about their abortion, this study doesn’t reflect the national population of women who’ve had abortions.
Of those who initially agreed to be interviewed at baseline, 15% of the women dropped out of the study, with another 31% of participants following their lead within the three year follow-up period. This suggests that even among the group of women who initially reported no post-abortion distress, there were feelings of discomfort about discussing their abortion in follow-up interviews. It wouldn’t be abnormal, as studies show post-abortive women may be uncomfortable answering questions about their experience. Other studies have found declines in relief and increases in negative emotions for post-abortive women in just a two year period.
The study was also non-representative of the general population, as it compared 413 women who had abortions near the end of the second trimester to only 254 who underwent an abortion in the first trimester. Not only is this disproportionate, but a majority of participants came from low socioeconomic backgrounds and were offered $50 per interview. Considering some women may have needed the money, this means the interview process was plagued with participation bias.
Still, the authors claimed in press releases that their study found “95 percent of women who had abortions felt it was the right decision, both immediately and over 3 years.” Obviously, they omitted relevant factors such as the study’s high refusal and dropout rates in their statements.
Unreported by the authors is if the women who felt no negative emotions towards their abortion did so because they had undergone post-abortive counseling. This means tt’s unclear if the lack of post-abortion regret reported by the study was “natural” like the authors claimed, or if it stemmed from intervention from a healing resource.
Also, to measure the satisfaction women felt towards their abortion, women were simply asked if their abortion was “right” for them. Women could only answer “yes,” “no,” or “uncertain.” Not only does this fail to measure any complex emotions surrounding an abortion decision, but this method does not accurately identify any shifting attitudes towards their experience.
Yet, the study claimed it found “no evidence of widespread ‘post-abortion trauma syndrome.’” But the authors’ psychological assessment of these women merely analyzed six emotional reactions they may feel towards their abortion: relief, happiness, regret, guilt, sadness and anger. It also failed to disprove the findings of studies linking abortion to elevated risks of psychiatric admissions and elevated rates of suicide.
Women living post-abortion deserve to know their grief can be heard, and that healing is possible. There is nothing wrong with seeking help for post-abortion regret. Abortion can cause trauma, but studies like these diminish the suffering of those who mourn.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.