In fighting over abortion access, mental health access after abortion needs to be a top priority
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that returned abortion to the states after nearly 50 years of federal abortion rights. Our country seems more divided than ever into two camps – those who oppose legalized abortion and cheer and celebrate Dobbs and those who support legalized abortion and are angry and lament Dobbs.
At Support After Abortion we focus on a third lane – outside the politics and ideology of the debate around abortion – dedicated to helping women and men impacted by abortion. We’d like to share with you the effects of Dobbs on abortion healing that we’ve seen over the past year.
- Obstacles to healing due to pressure to keep silent
Women and men fear being condemned if they share that they’ve experienced abortion or being ostracized if they share they’re hurting after abortion rather than celebrating. This has intensified since Dobbs and is exactly what was on the mind of our staff members who were exhibiting at a pro-life conference the day the Dobbs decision was announced. They described feeling unsettled amid the hooting, hollering, screaming celebration. One shared, “We know that one in four women experience abortion, so my thoughts went immediately to the many women who haven’t shared their story and now may never feel able to. It was sad and alarming to hear so much excitement while losing sight of those around you in pain.” Another said, “I actually cried. I knew abortions would still happen, but people would be silenced and wounded in a lot of different ways.”
- Obstacles due to fear of criminality and concern for safety and anonymity
Since Dobbs more clients contacting our After Abortion Line tell us they are afraid to reach out for help. They immediately ask about their safety and anonymity. Some are even scared to talk with their counselors because they fear criminalization. This led us to create self-help materials and ensure that our online Client Healing Center preserves anonymity. We launched Base Camp for men, a weekly virtual forum where participants don’t need to register and can choose to remain off screen. And we added an anonymous chat feature to our website.
- Ripple effect – impacted family & friends
People have shared with us experiencing the impact of abortion through loved ones sharing their abortion for the first time in public forums. They felt a double whammy – struggling with how to interact with their loved one and how to deal with their feelings of loss, especially with family members. For example, the day after the Dobbs decision, an After Abortion Line client sought advice on how to speak to her sister who had posted about an abortion on Facebook. She was struggling with reconciling finding out about the abortion publicly while also recognizing she felt grief over the niece or nephew she had never known.
- Healing setbacks from condemning words
People who had been through healing after their abortions returned to us for help because their healing had been set back by the way people were speaking about abortion. They were especially hurt by condemning words posted on social media or spoken in person by people close to them who were unaware or unconcerned they were talking to someone who had experienced abortion. They felt wounded, attacked, and unprepared to cope with this new, post-Dobbs intense and often public lashing out.
- Giant step backward in validation of men’s pain after abortion
Often the discussion of Dobbs has highlighted that male justices and legislators make up the majority of those making decisions on abortion access. We have seen these sentiments lead to a backlash against men who speak about their emotional pain after abortion. The result is men, who are already marginalized in discussions about abortion itself, are dismissed, ridiculed, and pressured to keep silent when they share their feelings about their personal abortion losses. Some men have even received death threats and threats of violence against their loved ones when they share their grief. We have stepped up the outreach to men, hiring a Men’s Healing Strategist, speaking at men’s conferences, and publishing our National Men’s Abortion research and white paper.
- Increase in medication abortion resulting in women seeking help sooner
Since Dobbs, medication abortion has grown especially through telemedicine and mail order. Our research shows that the experience of medication abortion is often more intense physically and emotionally than women anticipate. As a result many women reach out to our After Abortion Line within days of their abortions rather than months or years later as in the past. They are often traumatized by the pain they experienced and what they have seen. Some describe seeing body parts, others share that they realized they were much farther along than they thought when they saw how developed the baby was. Their need for support, compassionate care, and healing is great.
- Triggered pain from the rise in “Shout Your Abortion” pride
It’s nearly impossible to avoid hearing or reading about abortion since Dobbs. This can be very difficult for those who have experienced abortion – whether that was days or decades ago. One client whose abortion was 26 years ago said, “All this talk about abortion everywhere I turn now with all the politics has brought up all these memories of my pain and regret. Seeing people out there bragging about doing this is making me even more depressed.”
Regardless of the Dobbs decision and aftermath, the after-abortion impact is unchanged. Our work is just as needed as ever – but Dobbs has made that work even more difficult in some ways.
- Before Dobbs one of our biggest challenges was awareness – our research shows that 82% of people who have experienced abortion don’t know where to find help. Since Dobbs, people now feel a mistrust of the helpers and a greater cultural pressure to not admit that they’re hurting.
- While more funds are needed to create new abortion healing resources and options to address post-Dobbs concerns, donations are down because of the mistaken belief that Dobbs brought an end to abortion and the need to support people after abortion. Yet even if abortion were to end in America, the need for after-abortion healing would continue for the millions who have experienced abortion over the past 50 years.
As people fight over abortion access, we have to remember the people hurting from their abortion experiences. For both those striving to expand or restrict abortion access, the need for mental health access after abortion should always be an essential priority.
We invite you to join us in focusing on compassion and support for women and men in pain whose needs are often ignored or dismissed. Your monthly or one-time donation to Support After Abortion will bring hope and healing to women and men suffering after abortion.
About Support After Abortion
Support After Abortion is a nonprofit dedicated to helping women and men impacted after abortion by (1) connecting them with healing options they prefer, and (2) equipping providers with curriculum, resources, and trainings. Support After Abortion’s free resources include an After Abortion Help Line, a national therapist and counseling directory, and an introductory abortion healing program.
About the Author
Michele serves as Communications Manager for Support After Abortion. She and her husband have experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. They live in Greenville, SC with their three daughters.