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How Women Feel about Abortion

by Nancy Felipe Russo, Ph.D. & Amy J. Dabul, Ph.D.

Social scientists have known for years that the availability of legal abortion is not associated with long-term psychological distress in women who use it. An eight-year longitudinal study involving nearly 5,300 young women published in1992 found that the best predictor of well-being in women over the course of the study was their well-being at the start of the study, not their income level, job status, level of education or martial status or, quite specifically, whether they had had an abortion.

A new follow-up study finds that the same conclusion still applies regardless of religious or racial differences.

The study, by psychologists Nancy Felipe Russo, Ph.D., of Arizona State University and Amy J. Dabul, Ph.D., of Phoenix College, is further analysis of data gathered from a national sample of 5,295 women aged 14 to 24 (in 1979) who were interviewed annually from 1979 to 1987. The women's well-being was assessed using a reliable and valid measure of self-esteem in 1980 and again in 1987. This time, in addition to looking at variables such as income, employment and education, the researchers looked at race and religious beliefs and practices to see if they had any effect on women's well-being after having had an abortion.

They found that, overall, European American and African American women did not differ statistically on measures of self-esteem. Approximately the same proportion of African American and European American women reported having had an abortion (14.6% and 14.9% respectively). However, African American women had more abortions than European America women and African America women who had abortions were more likely than European America women to be mothers (86% vs 57%).

Nonetheless, and most importantly, having had an abortion (or more than one) had no relation with self-esteem in either group: "For both African American and European American women, prior self-esteem was the biggest predictor of subsequent self-esteem," the authors note. The same held true when they compared African American and European American women who reported a religious affiliation and high or low church attendance with those who were not religious.

Given these findings, the researchers ask: "Do highly distressed women who have had an abortion exist?" And, they answer: "Yes. But their distress is likely to be rooted in events and conditions that existed before they became pregnant. Legal abortion per se does not increase a woman's risk of negative wellbeing."


"The Relationship of Abortion to Well-Being: Do Race and Religion Make a Difference?" by Nancy Felipe Russo, Ph.D. & Amy J. Dabul, Ph.D. in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 28, No. 1.

This information received from the American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC.

Originally published 3/8/99
Revised 10/06/08 by Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D.
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