AAbortion restrictions affect women’s health in many ways.According to published in Journal of the American Medical AssociationSimply living in a state that restricts abortion can lead to worsening symptoms of anxiety and depression in women of childbearing age.
To find this pattern, a team at Johns Hopkins University analyzed responses from more than 700,000 people to the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey between December 2021 and January 2023. The survey asked people to rank their anxiety and depression symptoms on a scale of 0 to 4, allowing the research team to assign averages to the groups over the three time periods they observed.
They are primarily interested in what happened to the mental health of women between the ages of 18 and 45, which they define as the window of childbearing age, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal constitutional right to abortion in June 2022. They focused on women living in the United States. Thirteen states have enacted so-called “trigger laws,” or preventive abortion bans, aimed at Roe v. Wade was overturned.
From June 2022 to the end of the year, these women experienced greater increases in depression and anxiety symptoms than women in 37 other states. “The pattern is very clear,” said Jennifer Payne, professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, who was not involved in the study. She said the finding was further evidence that the Supreme Court’s decision was “shocking”. “That’s not what most women expect.”
Several previous studies have linked restrictive abortion laws to poorer mental health, including one that found that in the months after the Supreme Court ruling, women who faced the possibility of losing their abortion rights had lower mental health. The prevalence of distress increased by 10%.
Although the anxiety and depression symptoms included in the study were limited to symptoms below the diagnostic threshold for depression or anxiety disorders, Payne said she expects the same pattern may emerge in diagnostic data. “We know that the impact of abortion denial increases the risk of major depression,” she said.
read more: What abortion law looks like in the U.S. one year after its fall Roe v. Wade
Payne said there are many reasons why women might be negatively affected by abortion restrictions even if they don’t need the procedure. “Most women, whether under 45 or not, see this as a misogynistic attack on their rights,” she said. The study’s authors also noted that abortion restrictions could raise concerns about further government attempts to control women’s health, such as by restricting access to birth control.
Other patterns emerged in the data. In results that Payne called “scary but somewhat interesting,” the study’s authors found no statistically significant differences between men’s anxiety and depression symptoms across states or over time.
Questions remain about what future data might show. The most recent survey data included in the study was collected a year ago; has women’s mental health worsened further during that time? “Certainly trigger states are having dire consequences — doctors leaving those states, people being charged inappropriate fees for things,” Payne said. Based on that, one might expect the gap to widen, she said, but the differences in the study may also represent an initial shock felt by women in states that triggered the laws that later subsided.Since then, other states have enacted and enacted new abortion restrictions roe Being overturned, this may have had an untold impact on women.
Payne said it’s clear by now that abortion restrictions have significant public health impacts beyond women’s reproductive health.