Experts debunk 5 common myths about abortion

Two white round abortion medication pills on top of a black-and-white sonogram of a baby.
There are several abortion myths, which experts say can be difficult to dispel. (Getty Images)

Abortion has been a hot-button topic in the U.S. for years, but debate about the consequences of having an abortion ignited again last year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that guaranteed the right to abortion in America.

Now, nearly 60% of American women between the ages of 13 and 44 live in a state that's considered hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights, per the Guttmacher Institute. Given how much abortion is debated and discussed in person and online, it can be tough to know what's real and what is a total myth.

But why is there so much misinformation out there about abortion? Many "facts" about it have been repeated so many times that people think they're real, Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, tells Yahoo Life. "People who are opposed to anyone having access to abortion care simply state something about a lack of safety as fact with no facts to back it up," she says. "Anti-abortion extremists have spent decades trying to create stigma and shame around abortion. It means that these kinds of lies work their way into the zeitgeist and become difficult to eliminate."

How can you tell myth from reality? These are some of the biggest falsehoods about abortion that continue to circulate.

Myth No. 1: Abortion can impact your future fertility

"There's no evidence to suggest that abortion affects future fertility — it's a common myth," Antonia Biggs, associate professor and social psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco's Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, tells Yahoo Life. Abortion is "one of the most common, safest medical procedures performed in the U.S.," she says. "There is no impact of an abortion procedure — whether through medication or aspiration abortion — on future fertility," Biggs says.

What can affect your fertility is having an abortion through unsafe means outside of a medical setting, she says. According to the World Health Organization, up to 13.2% of maternal deaths worldwide can be attributed to unsafe abortions.

Consider this too: "The majority of patients who have an abortion and do not start on hormonal contraception following their abortion will return to their prior menstrual cycles within the next three months — and many within seven weeks — indicating the likely ability to get pregnant," Dr. Rebecca Simon, family medicine physician in Pennsylvania and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells Yahoo Life.

Myth No. 2: Abortion increases your risk of mental health issues and suicide

Research has repeatedly debunked this myth, but it still persists. A recent study published in the Archives of Women's Mental Health analyzed data from nearly 7,200 women who had an unplanned pregnancy within the past year, and found that "psychological distress" was the lowest for people who had a baby that they wanted. It increased for people who had an abortion, gave their child up for adoption or had an unwanted birth.

But the study found that abortion was linked with lower distress scores than those for people who engaged in adoption and unwanted birth. "Compared to the wanted birth, adoption and unwanted birth showed significantly higher levels of distress," the study reads.

On the flip side, however, research has found that not having access to abortion care can raise the risk of mental health issues.

The University of California, San Francisco's Turnaway Study found that women who are denied access to an abortion and have to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are four times more likely to live below the federal poverty level. These women are also more likely to experience anxiety and loss of self-esteem after being denied access to an abortion.

"The myth that abortion causes mental health harm is something that has been propagated by anti-abortion groups," Biggs says. "But we have very good evidence to dispel that common myth."

Myth No. 3: Abortion is linked to eating disorders

The data on this one is a little muddled. Research has found that people with anorexia nervosa are more likely to have unwanted pregnancies, but there's nothing that states that having an abortion causes an eating disorder.

As Simon points out: "Carrying a pregnancy to term can worsen chronic medical conditions, including eating disorders." According to the Guttmacher Institute, "there is still no conclusive evidence directly linking abortion to subsequent mental health problems."

Myth No. 4: Abortion isn't safe

This is simply "not true," Dr. Lauren Streicher, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. "It is far more likely for a woman to die during pregnancy and childbirth than from having an abortion," she adds.

There is a lot of chatter right now about mifepristone, one of two medications used in a medication abortion, after a federal judge in Texas ruled to suspend the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug. The unprecedented decision could affect access to mifepristone across the U.S., including in states where abortion is legal. Seeking to block the order, the Department of Justice filed an emergency stay motion Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

At the same time, another federal judge, based in Washington state, ruled that access to mifepristone can’t be restricted in the 17 states and D.C. that recently sued the FDA to drop some restrictions on mifepristone, which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says are “outdated” and “substantially limit access to this safe, effective medication.”

Mifepristone, which has a long-standing safety record, has been approved for 23 years and has been used by 5.6 million women. "Medication abortion is exceedingly safe and effective," Miller says. "The FDA has reviewed extensive data for years" about its use.

Simon agrees, saying: "Abortion is very common and, because of this, we also know it is very safe. Abortion is safer than continuing a pregnancy to term — especially in the U.S., where the maternal death rate is higher than any other high-income country."

Myth No. 5: Women often regret having an abortion

Research has found the opposite is true. A University of California, San Francisco study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine analyzed five years of longitudinal data, collected one week postabortion and semiannually for five years, from women who sought abortions at 30 American clinics between 2008 and 2010. Women were asked about their emotions and whether they felt that abortion was the right decision for them over five years.

After five years, the researchers discovered that more than 95% of women in the study said getting an abortion was the right decision for them.

"This myth that women regret an abortion has been perpetuated and is not evidence-based," Biggs says.

Overall, experts stress the importance of knowing the facts around abortion and abortion care. "These myths can be very hurtful," Biggs says. "Not only do they misinform policies, but people internalize these myths and are misinformed about the safety of abortion — that can impact the care that they receive."

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