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Most women facing unplanned pregnancy prefer not to abort, study reveals

by | May 26, 2023

By Gayle Irwin

A recent peer-reviewed study indicates most women who experience abortion do so in conflict with their preference and values, highlighting pressures they feel making that decision.

The research and published findings, titled “The Effects of Abortion Decision Rightness and Decision Type on Women’s Satisfaction and Mental Health,” shows lack of support and lack of financial security play strong roles in women’s decision to abort (Reardon D C, Rafferty K A, Longbons T (May 11, 2023) The Effects of Abortion Decision Rightness and Decision Type on Women’s Satisfaction and Mental Health. Cureus 15(5): e38882. doi:10.7759/cureus.38882).

“This study confirms earlier findings regarding the epidemic of unwanted abortions in America,” said David Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute and lead author of the study.

Reardon and his colleagues discovered nearly 70 percent of women who participated in the research and who had a history of abortion described their decision as inconsistent with their own values and preferences, and one in four classified their abortions as unwanted or coerced.

The new research served as the second in CLI’s Unwanted Abortion Studies

Researchers with the previous study, published in January, found that more than 60 percent of women reported “high to moderate levels of pressure” to get an abortion and only five percent felt “little to no pressure” (Reardon D C, Longbons T (January 31, 2023) Effects of Pressure to Abort on Women’s Emotional Responses and Mental Health. Cureus 15(1): e34456. doi:10.7759/cureus.34456).

For the second study, Reardon and his colleagues interviewed 1,000 American women ages 41-45. Approximately one in four in the sampling reported a history of abortion (similar to the national average), and 91 percent completed the survey, “almost three times the participation rate of the famous “Turnaway Study” conducted by an abortion advocacy group,” according to a press release issued by CLI. That study, according to Reardon and CLI, “purported to find almost universal satisfaction with the decision to abort, despite also finding high levels of regret, sadness, guilt and anger.”

Key findings in the recent Reardon, et. al research include:

• 67 percent of women described their abortions as “accepted but inconsistent with their values and preferences” (43 percent) or “unwanted or coerced” (24 percent).

• Only 33 percent identified their abortions as wanted.

• 60 percent would have preferred to give birth if they had received either more emotional support or had more financial security.

“This report is not surprising at all,” said Tracie Shellhouse, vice president of Ministry Services for Heartbeat International and former pregnancy resource center director. “For many years I have said that women don’t want to have abortions …. Those that choose to terminate a pregnancy generally do so because they feel that either they don’t have help, or they are under a lot of pressure. This report really indicates that pressure is a huge proponent in the decision to terminate.”

Pregnancy centers offer help 

Pregnancy resource centers provide solutions to those concerns of emotional support and financial security.

Especially noting that 60 percent would have chosen life with greater support, Shellhouse said, “Pregnancy help comes alongside those that are experiencing that unexpected and possibly unwanted pregnancy to meet the emotional and material and sometimes financial needs, providing resources that are needed in order for that mother to be able to choose life.”

Mentoring and parenting programs, community and in-house resources, materials assistance, and other offerings provide women facing an unplanned pregnancy with education, compassion, care, and provisions like diapers, formula, and maternity and baby clothes. Some centers even help with Medicaid enrollment.

For example, at True Care Women’s Resource Center in Casper, Wyo., the Director of Patient Resources, Cheryl Flores, is able to pre-qualify women for Medicaid and help them fully register for the program. She also connects patients with housing and physician referrals and other community agencies, providing women with resources they may not know exist.

Such services are critical, Shellhouse said.

“What I have seen in pregnancy help is once those experiencing an unexpected pregnancy realize all of the resources available to them, somewhere between 80 and 95 percent within the centers that I worked in made the choice to choose life,” she said. “It was very powerful. Again and again, I would hear ‘I didn’t realize how much help I had,’ ‘I didn’t know the support that was available to me.’ So, a big part of that is just getting that support before them and them understanding what is available.”

Abortion and mental health

Studies have shown abortion can contribute to mental health issues, including suicide and suicide ideation. Although abortion proponents say there is no link between induced abortion and mental health issues or suicide attempts, several studies, including from Finland, Italy, and the United States, show there is a link. Women who miscarry also have an increased risk for suicide. Therefore, supporting women with abortion recovery and infant loss classes can speak to fulfilling an emotional need, and many pregnancy centers offer such programs.

Some pregnancy centers employ counselors or social workers. Providing mental health professionals and case workers gives pregnancy help organizations another important tool to help women and share compassion.

The new Reardon study discovered most women attributed a decline in mental health to the abortion they experienced. 

On his Elliott Institute website, Reardon states, “The new study also found that only the one-third of women whose abortions were consistent with their own values and preferences reported more benefits than harm from their abortions.  The other two-thirds reported more negative effects and were more likely to report that their abortions contributed to a decline in their mental health.”

He added

“Those who aborted contrary to their own values and preferences … were also less likely to describe that abortion was the right decision … ‘given their situation.’ They were also more likely to report that the decision to abort violated their personal preferences … and that they would have preferred to carry to term if they had received more support from other persons … or if they had had more financial security…. They also reported far higher levels of moral conflict, maternal conflict, emotional attachment to their aborted children, and were more likely to view their pregnancy as a human life rather than a clump of cells.”

“I think that is an important point,” Shellhouse said. “When we look at what is happening right now, if we’re really saying that we support women and we want women to be able to live their best lives, then they really do need support – they need pregnancy help so that they can make an informed decision for themselves. Otherwise we’re likely going to see long term effects when it comes to mental health and quality of life issues for them.”

“Women deserve better”

Reaching women before they undergo an abortion is the goal of pregnancy resource centers. Understanding that most women do not want an abortion but either feel pressured to do so by other people or from circumstances, pregnancy resource centers can alleviate most women’s fears. 

“We need to throw out the dangerous assumption that ‘freedom of choice’ reflects the reality behind most women’s experiences with abortion,” Reardon said. “Only a minority of abortions are freely chosen to satisfy the woman’s own needs and preferences.”

 “Women need someone to step up alongside them, to educate them, to provide them with information on all the resources available to them, the help available to them, and ultimately just be available to them so they don’t feel isolated and alone, bearing the weight of the decision,” Shellhouse said. “It’s a very terrifying place to be for many, and it doesn’t have to be that way. What pregnancy help does is it allows for someone to come alongside those women.”

“At the very least, no abortion should be an unwanted abortion,” Reardon said. “It is up to abortion providers to ensure that no abortion ever causes more harm than benefits to one of their patients.”

He added, “If an abortion is not freely wanted and consistent with a woman’s own preferences and values, it is both unsafe and an exploitation of women who deserve better.”

Editor’s note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News where this first appeared.

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