How will the Roe v Wade overturn impact Americans’ mental health?

·3 min read

Story at a glance

  • The Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade means access to abortion services will be up to the discretion of individual states.

  • Numerous states are poised to severely restrict access in the coming days, while others are advertising themselves as abortion safe havens.

  • The United State’s leading mental health organization condemned the decision, saying it will worsen the country’s existing mental health crisis.

In response to the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v Wade, this past weekend the country saw outpourings of condemnation and relief from individuals across the political spectrum.

The decision, which removed federal protection for the right to an abortion, has sparked a series of warnings from medical and economic experts alike, forecasting the severe mental health toll this reversal might take.

“This ruling ignores not only precedent but science, and will exacerbate the mental health crisis America is already experiencing,” said American Psychological Association (APA) president Frank C. Worrell in a statement.

Americans’ mental health, already in a state of decline prior to COVID-19, took a turn for the worse during the global pandemic. Compounding these trends are a shortage of mental health care providers and the economic barriers some might face when seeking treatment.

In their statement, the APA expressed “deep concern and profound disappointment” about the Supreme Court’s decision, citing decades of research that shows denial of abortion is linked with increased risks of high anxiety levels, low life satisfaction, and decreased self-esteem compared with those who are able to access the service.

The decision will also have greater effects on individuals already living in poverty, people of color, those in medically underserved areas and other marginalized groups experiencing greater socioeconomic disparities.

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Further studies have also shown more barriers to abortion access can lead to increased rates of stress, anxiety and depression for those who aren’t currently pregnant, as they worry about future hurdles they might have to overcome.

Should an individual chose to seek an abortion down the line, they may face increased societal ridicule or judgement, not to mention distress that may come from seeking a procedure that is criminalized.

“We are setting up a situation where we are deliberately pushing people into a psychological crisis,” Worrell said in an additional statement.

The psychological trauma associated with domestic abuse, rape or incest can also become magnified if the resulting pregnancy cannot legally be terminated and women are forced to carry to term.

Postpartum depression currently affects around 1 in 7 women and severely impacts a woman’s ability to return to normal function following childbirth. Due to stigma and privacy concerns, nearly half of new mothers may not even report their postpartum depression. As more women must give birth in states where abortion access is limited, it follows that rates of postpartum depression will increase among new mothers.

Stripping individuals of their rights that were once codified into federal law also fosters feelings of dehumanization while the potential of further rights being put into jeopardy can also heighten the mental health crisis.

“The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers pledge to work with Congress and state policymakers in an effort to protect access and availability of abortion services,” the three organizations said in a joint statement.

“We also pledge work to ensure that mental health and medical professionals are not criminalized for doing their jobs in supporting pregnant people in making difficult decisions regarding reproductive health care needs.”

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