Testimony to Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee on SCR61 by Senator Sharon Hewitt
Senator Sharon Hewitt has introduced a resolution (SCR 61) to recognize May 2020 as Louisiana Abortion Recovery Awareness Month. The language included in this resolution perpetuates stigma and lies about abortion that have been used to undermine access and shame people who have abortions.
Lift Louisiana, in partnership with the Louisiana Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, submitted the following testimony to the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee in opposition to SCR 61.
This testimony is submitted on behalf of the Louisiana Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, a statewide alliance of organizations and individuals that works to ensure sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice for all people. The coalition objects to this resolution, SCR 61, because it perpetuates stigma and lies about abortion that have been used to undermine access and shame people who have abortions. This resolution also ignores the complex emotional and physical consequences of those who experience adoption, miscarriage, stillbirth, and labor.
The assertions made in this resolution and in previous testimony supporting abortion restrictions, assume that all women, or at least the vast majority of women, regret their abortion and suffer negative emotional consequences of that decision. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Studies show that the vast majority of those who obtain one feel that it is the right decision—even those who experience some negative feelings after the fact.1
The resolution asserts that “science confirms there are potential psychological effects” and there is “evidence [of]... a causal connection between abortion and mental and emotional injuries” from abortion. In fact, recent studies and systematic reviews of the literature—including a report by the American Psychological Association and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine—have found that abortion does not have a negative impact on women’s mental health.2 Additional research has found that 97% of women report that abortion was the right decision for her and that relief was the most commonly felt emotion among women who had an abortion, even five years later.3
At best, the resolution only tells part of the story. The resolution cites testimony from women who regret their abortion. However, amicus briefs submitted in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, include testimony from hundreds of people who do not regret their abortion.4,5 Several of the stories included in these briefs do, however, illustrate how social stigma and negative reactions from the community can have impacts on mental health even for people who feel they made the right decision. Research has found that social stigma is one of the strongest predictors of whether people do experience negative emotions following their abortion. Resolutions like this and the rhetoric it promotes contribute to this social stigma and to the potential for negative feelings that some people may feel after abortions.
The resolution also contains other false claims. The resolution asserts that abortion providers “fail to adequately provide women with full disclosure of known physical, psychological, and emotional risks and complications of abortion procedures.” In fact, Louisiana’s Women’s Right to Know Law, among others, requires providers to deliver orally and in writing copious amounts of information about abortion risks, some of which is biased, misleading and not grounded in fact or science. For example, the written materials that must be given to every woman describe the potential for negative psychological and emotional consequences in terms that are similar to the resolution, but are not grounded in research or science.
The resolution also lists and commends organizations which are Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC.) These fake clinics are not regulated in any manner, nor are they mandated to share accurate information on all pregnancy options. Instead they deceive and pressure people to carry a pregnancy to term and are not required to share information about pregnancy and childbirth risks. These are not the type of organizations that the Legislature should be promoting.
The resolution asserts that Louisiana’s Safe Haven Law allows women to abandon an unwanted child to “avoid the pain of abortion.” This assumes that there are no mental health consequences of surrendering a child at a safe haven facility or giving a child up for adoption. This claim ignores the many very real difficulties of carrying a pregnancy to term, physically and emotionally, and which can add enormous strain, both emotionally and financially, to families who are already struggling. It provides a misleading narrative that pregnancy, labor, and childrearing hold no potential for physical or emotional harm.
Adoption is not an alternative to all abortions. The decision to place a child for adoption is nowhere near the easy choice; it is often distressing and traumatic for birth mothers to relinquish their children, even in open adoptions. Experts have found that many biological parents who place their children for adoption go through an immense grieving process, one that may last for decades. In one study cited by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, three-quarters of birth mothers still experienced feelings of loss 12 to 20 years after placing their newborns for adoption.6 In addition, adoption may not be the best option for all people because the risk of carrying a pregnancy full term comes with emotional and physical consequences sometimes detrimental to health. Especially for women of color, who die from pregnancy related causes at a rate four times that of white women.
Perhaps what would be more appropriate is a resolution recognizing the postpartum mental health impacts of pregnancy, miscarriage, labor, childbirth, adoption and abortion. Indeed, the concerns of the Legislature should be for the severe lack of mental health services available for the citizens of Louisiana, in general. This problem is compounded when social services available to people are so limited that raising a child seems impossible. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed just how shallow the rhetoric is for the health of pregnant people. In fact, during the May 14, 2020 meeting of the Labor and Industrial Committee, Legislators were pushing people living in Louisiana, including pregnant people, to make a decision between their health and their work, threatening to cut off financial assistance to those who fail to return to work because of their legitimate health concerns. It is hard to take seriously the purported concern for the mental health of pregnant people when there has been no action taken to provide paid sick leave to workers or to provide a safety net for those that are suffering the worst from the economic disaster we are experiencing from the pandemic.
The coalition would encourage the Legislature to spend it’s time ensuring that we all have rights and access to resources, including mental health services, that support pregnant people's choice to parent or not, and promote safety, dignity, and well-being.
- Rocca, C.H., Kimport, K., Gould, H. and Foster, D.G. (2013), Women's Emotions One Week After Receiving or Being Denied an Abortion in the United States. Perspect Sex Repro H, 45: 122-131. doi:10.1363/4512213
- Brief amici curiae of Social Science Researchers. June Medical v. Russo. Available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/18/18-1323/124089/20191202144643998_18-1323%2018-1460%20Amici%20Brief.pdf
- Corinne H. Rocca, Goleen Samari, Diana G. Foster, Heather Gould, Katrina Kimport, Emotions and decision rightness over five years following an abortion: An examination of decision difficulty and abortion stigma, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 248, 2020, 112704, ISSN 0277-9536, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112704.
- Brief amici curiae of Michele Coleman Mayes, Claudia Hammerman, et al., June Medical v. Russo. Available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/18/18-1323/124111/20191202154936069_18-1323%2018-1460_Amicus%20Brief.pdf
- Brief amici curiae of Holly Alvarado, et al. June Medical v. Russo. Available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/18/18-1323/124056/20191202133543629_18-13231460%20Holly%20Alvarado%20%20Brief.pdf
- Ayers-Lopez, S. J., Henney, S. M., McRoy, R. G., Hanna, M. D., & Grotevant, H. D. (2008). Openness in adoption and the impact on birth mother plans for search and reunion. Families in Society, 89, 551–561. doi: 10.1606/1044-3894.3815
Attached to this testimony:
Factsheet from Ibis on abortion and mental health
Amicus Briefs submitted in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo