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Go Ahead, #ShoutYourAbortion—Research Supports You

Abortions aren't inherently shameful, and we have some choice in what kind of experience we make for those who get them.
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(Photo: mirsasha/Flickr)

(Photo: mirsasha/Flickr)

If you're at all active on the Internet, you've probably seen the hashtag #shoutyourabortion trending over the past few days. Girls and women have been using it to share stories on social media about how their abortions have positively affected their lives. The hashtag began with Seattle resident Amelia Bonow, who wrote about an abortion she had in Facebook post. "Plenty of people still believe that on some level—if you are a good woman—abortion is a choice which should [be] accompanied by some level of sadness, shame, or regret," Bonow wrote. "But you know what? I have a good heart and having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way."

Psychology research backs the notion that those who have a legal, elective abortion are likely to be fine afterward, undermining the common pro-life argument that abortions harm women's mental health. Of course, individuals may find their abortions distressing, and it's important those girls and women get the support they need in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. Abortion may not be the right choice for them, if they find it more distressing than the alternatives—i.e., giving up their child for adoption, or raising a child they didn't feel prepared to take care of. As a whole, however, people who get abortions aren't any more likely to suffer mental problems than their peers who carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, as several research teams have found.

If we expect women to feel ashamed, or to mourn their aborted fetuses, those expectations can in turn create concurring feelings.

So it's not surprising that many people have stories like Bonow's. What's perhaps surprising is that they're now so willing to share them.

Bonow's Facebook post also brings up the fact that many Americans expect women who seek abortions to feel a sense of shame. But exactly what is considered shameful varies across cultures and time. In the past few generations, Americans have changed their views on actions as varied as smoking, divorce, and premarital sex. Americans' views on abortion have famously resisted change, but #shoutyourabortion aims to move the seemingly unmovable.

Meanwhile, it's well recorded in the scientific literature that stigma itself is a source of mental health problems. Thus the current cultural climate around abortion in America can create a "self-fulfilling prophecy," as an American Psychological Association task force on mental health and abortions wrote in 2009. That is, if we expect women to feel ashamed, or to mourn their aborted fetuses, those expectations can in turn create concurring feelings that might not otherwise exist.  Of course, some folks want to maintain the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Whether that's the right thing to do is a question of personal morals, not science. The bottom line is, as individuals and as a society, we have some choice about how we see abortion, and what kind of experience we create for those who get abortions. #shoutyourabortion is the first big, public movement we've seen that so fully embraces the possibility that we could see abortion like any other medical procedure: one that women make when it's their best option, without any particular social or psychological repercussions.