Press release issued by the AWP Activism Caucus May 15, 2019
Psychological Damage Inflicted on Girls and Women from Restrictions on Reproductive Rights
As the news in the United States these days about restrictions on women’s reproductive freedom echoes Margaret Atwood’s (1985) novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, the Activism Caucus of the Association for Women in Psychology considers it essential to point out the alarming psychological consequences of laws that limit girls’ and women’s rights to make decisions about their bodies and their futures.
This is especially the case for the most extreme measures, such as those embodied in the Alabama legislature’s vote on May 14 to classify abortion as a felony.
These laws are damaging to the emotional health of girls and women in a number of important ways:
(1) Growing girls learn that in crucial, life-altering ways, the government has more control over their bodies than they do. This is important for many reasons, one of which is that a sense of control has been shown repeatedly in psychological research to be important to mental health and well-being. Rape and incest are examples of extreme loss of control, and at least In some cases, making the decision to have an abortion after rape and incest are important parts of healing, but the new Alabama law prohibits that;
(2) Women, who already have fewer legal rights than men under the U.S. Constitution, are experiencing shock and fear as they see government entities with all their power take away some of the most important rights they do have. In the decades since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1972, most women have been able to make decisions about whether and when to give birth, and they have felt secure in their right to privacy. These new laws substitute the opinion of state legislatures over the opinions of women and their doctors, and they suggest that women are incapable of making ethical decisions based on their own health and circumstances; and
(3) Accompanying these reactionary attempts to challenge reproductive rights are moralistic fervor and the blaming and shaming of girls and women who choose to use birth control measures or who choose to have abortions. This causes fear, self-doubt, low self-confidence, feelings of being unsafe, and beliefs that others consider them incompetent to make major decisions about their lives and undeserving of reproductive rights.
(4) When reproductive rights are restricted, higher-income women find it easier than lower-income women to purchase or travel to seek the health care they want and need, and the physical and mental health of the latter will suffer.
Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are essential to mental health and well-being.