July 7, 2022 – Anger, anxiety, numbness: These emotions are just a few that some may feel after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, drastically changing a nearly 50-year precedent that gave people the right to abortion across all states.
Indeed: The American Psychological Association says restricting access to abortion can increase feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. If you feel you are emotionally struggling after the court’s decision, read on to see how you can cope.
What are common emotions people might be feeling about the overturning of Roe v. Wade?
Neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, director of the psychology practice Comprehend the Mind in New York City, says that emotions like “loss, betrayal, anguish,” and a “sense of going backwards” can be expected. She says that a person’s feelings about the ruling may be different, depending on “what side of the fence” they are on about the issue, but a “majority” of people are likely to feel negatively about the court’s decision. (As of this past May, a national Marist poll showed that 64% of Americans felt that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.)
Is it normal to feel emotions like grief or anger about the overturning of Roe v. Wade?
It’s normal to have strong emotions about the ruling, says Hafeez. Those who “might have experienced this form of freedom” provided by Roe may feel especially devastated by the ruling.
Debra Mollen, PhD, a professor of psychology at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, agrees that strong emotions are normal to feel when what she calls a “foundational” right like abortion is taken away. She says that some signs of grief about the decision may include sadness, hopelessness, fear, and concern about the future.
“We feel strongly because for many of us, we recognize how tremendous the ability to control our reproductive destiny is,” Mollen says.
How can people cope with the decision if they are struggling?
Josie Serrata, PhD, a psychologist and co-owner of Prickly Pear Therapy and Training in Austin, TX, says that connecting with others is a healthy way to deal with feelings about the decision.
“Take a pause and reconnect with what has supported you in the past during difficult times,” she says. “It can also be helpful to connect with your community.”
Advocating for causes you care about can also help, she says.
People can advocate for abortion rights by donating to causes like abortion funds, attending in-person protests, and telling local and state lawmakers to protect abortion rights, the Center for Reproductive Rights advises.
What should you do if friends and family disagree with your feelings about Roe v. Wade?
If your partner, family, or friends disagree with your feelings about the overturning of Roe, Mollen advises that it helps to find people who have a “supportive presence” in your life. But it’s still important to talk to people that disagree with you about the decision, she says, as having discussions with others about the “real-world implications” of abortion rights can help others understand your point of view.
Planned Parenthood says that discussions about abortion rights should not be about “changing someone’s beliefs.” Rather, those having these conversations should encourage “compassion and understanding” about the “deeply personal” experience that is abortion.
What should people do if they find social media is making their feelings about the decision worse?
Hafeez says that what you see on social media about Roe can depend on “who you follow” and the “social media algorithm,” which can make you feel like you are getting the “same messages over and over again.”
If you feel social media is harming your mental health, you can mute or unfollow accounts that may be getting too repetitive for you, she advises.
But social media can also be a positive outlet for you to channel negative emotions about the overturning of Roe.
“Maybe you can write your own post or piece if you feel you have something new to say,” Hafeez says.
What can people do to support those in their lives who are impacted by the overturning?
You can show support for abortion rights even if it is not an issue that personally affects you, says Hafeez.
”Men can show solidarity by engaging in conversations and being allies to women,” she says.
And when discussing feelings about reproductive rights with your partner, Mollen says we should “come from a place of trying to be heard” and “asking our partners to hold space for us.” It’s helpful for couples to take on contraception and pregnancy as “partners” and make important decisions together, she says.
“It’s hard to think about something that would transform someone’s life more than pregnancy,” Mollen says.