Abortion does not change women’s self-esteem or well-being

The idea that abortion is emotionally traumatic for women has gained traction in recent years, and the notion that the procedure lowers self-esteem has spurred legislation that increasingly restricts abortion access. Data on whether abortion is related to self-esteem and life satisfaction are limited and mostly come from retrospective studies.

To fill this gap, researchers with the UCSF Bixby Center examined the effects of obtaining an abortion versus being denied an abortion on self-esteem and life satisfaction in the Turnaway Study. Using data from more than 900 women who sought an abortion from 30 facilities across the United States, the researchers found that:

  • Women denied an abortion initially reported lower self-esteem and life satisfaction than women who sought and obtained an abortion.
  • Women who obtained first-trimester abortions reported higher levels of life satisfaction, which remained steady over time, compared with other women.
  • The initially lower levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction among women denied an abortion eventually improved, reaching similar levels as those obtaining abortions after six months to one year.
  • Self-esteem and life satisfaction improved over time for all women, except those who received a first-trimester abortion since their levels were higher to begin with and remained steady.

While an abortion may be an emotionally significant event in a woman's life, there is no evidence that it causes harm to self-esteem or life satisfaction in the short or long term. In fact, these findings suggest that being denied an abortion is more harmful to women's feelings of self-worth and well-being in the short term. Other factors associated with low self-esteem are also related to having an abortion, such as having an unintended pregnancy or life circumstances that lead women to decide to terminate the pregnancy. Efforts to support women’s emotional well-being should focus on these and other factors known to impact self-esteem and life satisfaction.