Gov. (Mike) Parson frequently states that denying access to abortion protects women’s health, but evidence-based medical research does not support his claims.
In regard to physical well-being, research is clear that an abortion is safer than childbirth. A study from the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology concludes that “legally induced abortion is safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. Similarly, the overall morbidity associated with childbirth exceeds that with abortion.” And though having an abortion is not detrimental to one’s health, being denied access to abortion likely is. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that those women denied abortions had greater reports of poor health in the five year follow-up over those proceeding with first and second trimester abortions. Those giving birth also reported slightly higher rates of chronic conditions including headaches, joint pain, asthma and high cholesterol. In addition, prior to legal abortion, more than 800,000 illegal abortions were performed each year and a marked decline in complications occurred in the years following Roe v. Wade with the replacement of safer, legal procedures.
In regard to claims that abortion affects the mental health of a woman, research shows that 95% of women feel the decision was right for them and do not experience negative psychological reactions. “Certainly, experiencing feelings of guilt or regret in the short-term after an abortion is not a mental health problem; in fact, such emotions are a normal part of making a life decision that many women in this study found to be difficult,” the study reads. “Our results of declining emotional intensity … (find) steady or improving levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction, stress, social support, substance use, and symptoms of depression and anxiety over time post-abortion.” A study published in JAMA Psychiatry revealed that compared with having an abortion, being denied an abortion may be associated with greater risk of experiencing adverse psychological outcomes. The study also refuted earlier reports suggesting that having an abortion later in the pregnancy can result in more adverse mental health outcomes for women compared with women having a first-trimester abortion.
Financial health must be discussed. Many women who seek abortion face economic hardship with half living below the federal poverty level. Denial of abortion services exacerbates this hardship. A study shows that there were significant differences in the socioeconomic trajectories of women who were denied wanted abortions compared with women who received abortions — with women denied abortions facing more economic hardships. Differences over time in employment, poverty and receipt of public assistance suggest that public assistance was not sufficient to support the increase in household size resulting from a new baby, and did not keep households of women denied an abortion from living in poverty.
And lastly, there is a need to address Mr. Parson’s claim that abortions in Missouri have dropped to an all-time low due to strong pro-life leaders, such as himself, who are willing to stand up to protect women’s health. If he is intimating that anti-abortion activists are creating widespread change in public opinion against abortion, it is not born out in a Pew Research Center poll showing public opinion is essentially the same as in the mid-1990s. If he is implying that it is due to winning “hearts and minds” of women who may consider abortions, he would not need to rely on ever more extreme and coercive abortion restrictions. In actuality, the decrease in abortions nationally is linked to contraceptives being more accessible through private insurance and Medicaid as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) requires coverage of contraceptives with no out-of-pocket costs. And importantly, Missouri women seek abortions in neighboring states. Forty-seven percent of all Missourians seeking abortions are treated in Kansas. Fifty-five percent of patients seen in an Illinois clinic are from Missouri.
Studies show that abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure that one in four American women has in her lifetime. It is within the full spectrum of reproductive and essential health care. Mr. Parson’s argument that denying women access to abortion is for their own “safety and protection” is not supported by medical evidence. In fact, research shows that his attempts to limit a woman’s access to health care is creating physical, emotional, and financial harm for the Missourians it is his duty to protect.
Shavonne L. Danner, MD, is an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist who has a special interest in Missouri health care policy.