Abortion certainty does not increase in states with mandated waiting periods

More than half of U.S. states require patients to wait 18 to 72 hours after mandated counseling before having an abortion. Proponents of mandatory waiting periods claim they aid decision-making for those uncertain about their decision. However, a new study from ANSIRH researchers found that living in a state with a waiting period or in-person two-visit requirement is not associated with increased certainty about the decision. 

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Researchers surveyed people searching online for abortion care who were considering an abortion and then followed up with them four weeks later. Researchers found that living in a state with mandatory waiting period laws, two-visit requirements, or both was not associated with higher levels of certainty when compared to those living in states with no such restrictions. These results suggest that these state restrictions by themselves likely did not have their intended effect of increasing decision certainty among people considering abortion.

People who had obtained abortions by the follow-up survey four weeks later were most certain of their decisions over time. Those who had decided to continue their pregnancies also had high levels of certainty about their decisions. Those still seeking abortions were the only group whose certainty decreased over four weeks—possibly reflecting that they were unsure at the beginning and delayed the decision or faced other barriers to obtaining care.

It is important to note that this study did not capture possible harms of mandatory waiting periods and two-visit requirements. These restrictions can make the process of obtaining abortion care more difficult by requiring patients to arrange travel, childcare, or time off work. These restrictions do not appear to be based on pregnant people's true decision-making process as people who faced those restrictions were not more sure about their decisions than people who lived in states without them.

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