The Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, which removed federal protections for the right to abortion, has left the legality of accessing abortion care up to individual states. As states continue to roll out laws banning and restricting abortion, the impact of this ruling on businesses, health care, the economy, and individuals has become glaringly obvious, as many experts predicted.

Still, abortion access is a complex and emotionally charged topic for people on both sides of the debate. But no matter where an individual or organization stands regarding their personal beliefs, restricting access to abortion has a severe impact on the mental health and wellbeing of employees and their dependents.

As Americans try to adapt to and cope with the new post-Roe reality, organizations and their leaders will have hard but necessary conversations with their teams. Keep reading to learn more about the mental health impact of anti-abortion laws on employees—and what business leaders can do to understand, address, and support them.

The mental health effects of anti-abortion laws

With an estimated 36 million women stripped of their right to safe, legal abortion,1 the mental health crisis in the U.S. will get worse.

While anti-abortion activists have insisted that having an abortion harms mental health,2 there’s no evidence to support this claim. In fact, according to the U.S. Turnaway study, an examination of the impacts abortion had on 1,000 pregnant people over five years, people who received abortion care didn’t see an increase in mental health symptoms. An analysis of the Turnaway study found that, five years after having an abortion, 84% of people felt either mostly positive or no emotions. Just 6% shared that they had primarily negative emotions.3

However, being denied an abortion—and being forced to carry an undesired, unplanned, or unhealthy pregnancy to term—is known to have a far more detrimental impact on the mental health of the pregnant person.4 In addition, when access to abortion care is restricted, the risk of maternal mortality rises due to limitations on available miscarriage services (which are medically similar to abortion care), unsafe abortions, and medical conditions that could cause severe life-threatening comorbidities.5

The psychological issues that may arise or worsen when denied access to abortion services include5 (but aren’t limited to):

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger and rage
  • Low self-esteem
  • Panic attacks
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Stigmatized grief

People denied abortions also experience worse outcomes than those who got abortions, including an increase in poverty for up to four years, a lowered credit score, a higher risk of partner violence, and a higher likelihood of having life-threatening complications.6

Even those who aren’t currently pregnant are more prone to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and stress, as they worry about the potential repercussions of seeking a criminalized medical procedure should they need or want to terminate a future pregnancy.7

Understanding the cultural implications of abortion bans

Organizations need to understand the cultural impact that anti-abortion laws have on the mental health and socioeconomic wellbeing of people of color, LGBTQ+ and gender-diverse individuals living in poverty, immigrants, and other marginalized groups.8

Due to more limited access to healthcare, some women of color are more likely to have an abortion than white women. This affects women’s access to contraception and other sexual health and family planning services.9 Additionally, due to a long history of racism in healthcare, many women of color report discrimination, dismissive treatment, assumption of stereotypes, and lack of knowledge among medical professionals about conditions that disproportionately affect women of color—all of this leads to medical mistrust, which is a common reason contraception isn’t sought ought.

There are other social and economic inequities that affect people of color and their decisions related to reproductive health. These include income, housing, safety, and education, to name a few. These social determinants of health make it harder for women of color to access the financial resources needed to get a safe, legal abortion, especially if doing so requires out-of-state travel.9

Businesses need to acknowledge these disparities, and the impact restricted abortion access has on the mental health and wellbeing of employees in marginalized and underserved groups.

How to approach hard conversations about Roe v. Wade at work

As company leaders strategize ways to mitigate the business impact now that Roe is no longer, they cannot ignore the emotional toll this event has on employees. As the issue of abortion is sensitive and deeply personal for many, management needs to prepare a strategic, empathetic approach to the hard conversations that lie ahead.10

Here are suggestions for creating a safe, stigma-free workplace and giving employees the support they need during this time and into the uncertain future.

  • Approach conversations in a way that prioritizes the needs of employees most severely impacted by this decision.
  • Exercise empathy and flexibility in day-to-day management, such as requests for time off, deadlines, and productivity.
  • Offer (but don’t force) one-on-one meetings with direct reports so they have an opportunity to discuss any needs or concerns they have privately. Consider asking employees to respond to an anonymous survey to offer even more privacy.11
  • Abortion is a women’s issue, but it goes beyond that. Lack of abortion access impacts men, families, children, and communities. Transgender men and women and their families are also affected by abortion restrictions.12
  • Ensure that conversations about abortion include people representing all identities, cultural backgrounds, ranks of leadership, and experiences.
  • Reduce the polarizing effect of abortion discussions by focusing on human rights, not political opinions; though organizations can take a public stand about the federal abortion decision, they should align their actions to company values, not political affiliation.13
  • Be prepared to offer resources for various employee needs such as mental health support (beyond the behavioral health benefits already provided), ways to access legal abortions, company policies on abortion-related PTO, travel expenses, and legal funds.

To help with this, we will continue to provide resources and recommendations to help organizations and their employees find increased access to care for mental health and wellbeing.

Additional resources

Mental health support

  • Crisis Text Line — a 24/7 mental health texting service providing confidential crisis intervention
  • Trans Lifeline — a hotline offering direct emotional and financial support to trans people in crisis
  • Mental Health First Aid — a directory of nationwide mental health resources

Reproductive rights organizations and resources

Management guidance