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In 2014, the abortion rate in the United States was 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women. It is the lowest abortion rate recorded since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the United States in 1973. One of the fears of the decision was that it would lead to an increase in abortions and the termination of pregnancies could have a detrimental effect on the women receiving the abortions. While the increase in legal abortion access did see a rise in abortions, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that legal abortions did not cause a significant increase in mental health issues among women that have experienced abortions. With a long history of trauma and disease that caused premature deaths at extraordinary rates, humans have evolved to overcome trauma. Humans are inherently resilient, largely due to the high amount of traumatic experiences our ancestors experienced and the genes dedicated to survival that were passed generation after generation.
It is not an unreasonable to believe that abortions could have a severe impact on women’s mental health. Terminating a pregnancy and losing an unborn child has high potential of being a traumatic experience that could potentially have long-standing mental health effects. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry, followed 1,000 women who sought out consultation on potentially getting an abortion. The study followed these women for five years after they received or were denied an abortion. The researchers found that those who received abortions were no more likely than those that were denied abortions to have experienced anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or feelings of life dissatisfaction. Only those that were denied abortions due to being too far along in their pregnancies experienced negative mental health problems, but the study noted that after six months, the negative mental health effects returned to the range observed in other groups in the study.
The study shows that humans are extremely resilient and that we often overcome even the most difficult events that can occur in our lives. Modern life is far more safer and less fraught with trauma that our past, where mortality rates across the board were much higher. In evolutionary terms, it makes sense that we are as resilient as we are, considering we would not exist otherwise. For obvious reasons, there are no concrete statistics on mortality rates from our ancient past, but it is believed to be extraordinarily high compared to today, where the worldwide average life expectancy is 71 years. The infant mortality rate in particular is believed to have been very high in prehistoric times. Even in recent times before the advent of standard hygienic norms in hospitals, infant mortality rates were much higher they are today. Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis observed in 1846 that the neonatal mortality rate was five times lower when women gave birth at a midwives’ clinic, compared to births that took place in hospitals by male doctors. He figured out that the doctors were performing autopsies in the hospitals and the midwives were not. Semmelweis hypothesized that harmful microbes were being transferred from the autopsy bodies to the women giving birth. When Semmelweis advised the doctors to sterilized their hands and tools before delivering babies, the neonatal mortality rate dropped dramatically. Today, it is very rare for a baby to be lost during childbirth, but even within he past century, neonatal deaths would not have been all that uncommon.
Modern medicine has drastically cut down on mortality rates for various diseases and medical conditions. It is estimated that approximately 300 million have died due to smallpox. English physician Edward Jenner is credited with the discovery of the smallpox vaccine, which has been successfully deployed worldwide. As a result, smallpox is the only infectious disease that has been fully eradicated globally, with the last World Health Organization declaring it officially eradicated in 1979. Before this time, it wouldn’t of been uncommon to have known members of your own family who had died from smallpox. Other deadly diseases like polio and measles have also been eradicated in the developed world due to vaccines. Infectious diseases caused by bacteria have been largely controlled by the invention of antibiotics. Before Alexander Fleming isolated a mold called Penicillium notatum to be used as the world’s first antibiotic, it wouldn’t have been uncommon for people to die due to an infected cut. The Oxford Constable, Albert Alexander cut his face while gardening and an infection caused by staphylococci and streptococci spread to his scalp and eyes. He was treated with pencillin for five days, but eventually doctors ran out of penicillin and Alexander succumbed to the infection.
The world offers many dangers to our mortality and humans have faced these dangers for hundreds of thousands of years. Trauma and disease are in a constant battle with our mortality and only those that could overcome adversity would pass their genes to the next generation. In that evolutionary context, it is not surprising that we often overcome even the darkest of traumas. It will be interesting to see where the evolutionary direction that resiliency will go in our modern world where we are far less likely to face the same dangers that our ancestors faced on a daily basis.