Does Post-Abortion Syndrome Exist?
Do Individuals Experience Regret After Abortion?
One of the biggest battles in the abortion issue has been over whether or not post-abortion syndrome (PAS), a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as it relates to abortion, really exists among women who have made this choice. For the last twenty years I’ve been monitoring this discussion while hearing from tens of thousands of post-abortive women at various stages in their healing process. Certainly abortion is perceived as a “traumatic” event for most, myself included.
For many women who have experienced a pregnancy loss due to an abortion, the immediate emotion after this choice is relief. The “crisis” is over and life can go on as usual. Once recovered from any physical pain surrounding the procedure, many women simply flow back into life as if nothing had been lost in the process.
The human mind can work perfectly in “forgetting” memories of pain. This process is sometimes referred to as “denial.” Yet along the way, triggers can instantly resurrect closely-held memories and grief over the pregnancy loss can surface. The time-line of this pain is as diverse as the women that choose this procedure. These initial feelings of relief can be temporary. For others, this relief can be a resting place for the rest of their lives.
Maybe this pain is resurrected by simply hearing the word “abortion” after intense media coverage of the political side of abortion politics. Conceivably, grief could occur around the due date of the aborted child or the abortion date itself. Having subsequent pregnancies can also arouse feelings of pain. Many times the recognition of pain arrives unexpectedly. However it is triggered, deep recollection of this choice can be a devastating experience to endure. Often it leaves a person considering their sanity.
Women who have made this choice RARELY admit this fact to anyone, even to their loved ones or personal physicians. To even speak the “A” (abortion) word aloud threatens to dismantle the strong heart walls that read, “Do Not Enter!” this specific memory territory. Sadly, these emotional walls that were designed to protect hearts also imprisons them.
When the pain comes, loved ones that know about this choice often offer comments like, “That’s all in the past. Why bring it up now?” For many, these memories are not in the past any longer. Something, or someone, has broken down heart walls and entered the forbidden zone of an abortion memory. How this wall was blasted down can come in a variety of ways. But once it’s down, moving back into the safety of “forgetting” can be difficult.
Pro-abortion messages that discredit potential pain after abortion abound. Likewise, anti-abortion messages that cast post-abortive individuals as “murderers” or “killers” equally exist. It is amazing that both sides of this issue — pro and anti-abortion — can be equally uncompassionate towards individuals who have made this choice. A compassionate approach to talking to the post-abortive directly would be the most useful. In our society, however, political perspectives can wound quickly.
One individual made the following statement about women who have made this choice:
“Why would a woman be angry at an abortionist? Because he is about to kill her child, and any woman knows that is wrong. She can’t help but know it. None of us can. It’s one of the deepest truths written on our hearts-that human life is sacred, and destroying an innocent life in the womb is one of the most violent acts imaginable.”
In this statement, the author hit on a perspective that is clearly inaccurate. Unless you are working closely with abortion-vulnerable women, you have no ability to draw conclusions about how these women think. When such blanket comments are made, the pain of the post-abortive woman who has yet to heal from this loss can be magnified and post-abortive pain can be triggered.
Pregnancy centers work diligently to educate clients in unplanned pregnancies to understand the emotional, spiritual, psychological and physical risks of the abortion procedure. But youthful minds may be unable to fathom future pain and regret. In America, abortion is “safe and legal” from a government perspective. Being “legal” doesn’t mean “easy.”
Of those women who chose abortion, few do so in the mindset that they are, “destroying an innocent life,” and committing, “one of the most violent acts imaginable.” Like Frederica Mathews Green once said, “A woman doesn’t want an abortion like she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche, but like an animal caught in a trap who gnaws off its own leg.”
Despite all my years of healing and working in pregnancy care ministry, this author’s previous comment wounded my own heart immediately. I literally screamed out loud because their words caused me pain, they certainly had the possibility of wounding other post-abortive readers. Who would be there, while they were reading this article, to offer them the compassion of Christ that was not outlined?
If I felt judged by this author’s word, how would others who have yet to address their emotions related to a past abortion interpret these words? Sadly, many will not respond at all. They will simply sink further back behind their walls of pain, building it stronger and/or making the decision to never read anything from the same source again. Others could absorb this statement as truth – that they somehow did KNOW better — and will feel judged and condemned once again. Some may even consider suicide out of the desire to rejoin their lost child in heaven. I doubt this author meant to lead vulnerable and wounded women to this point. Everyone has a responsibility to remember the post-abortive reader whenever writing on this topic.
When pro-life individuals make generalized statements like these, they are speaking in a political framework. Sadly, for post-abortive people, there is no distinction between politics and recovery when it comes to this “a” word. The grinding premise that we somehow KNEW that we were committing the most violent acts imaginable simply isn’t true. Few of us had any clue that we were aborting a precious potential person. Nor were we in a “murderous” frame of mind when we entered an abortion clinic.
Lack of Real Information
If post-abortive women cannot bear to think about their abortions, even fewer women will be able to discuss it within the confines of a statistical survey. Because of the potential for judgment, few share about their abortion experiences. Consequently, there will likely never be a reputable study that proves a distinct and scientific connection between future emotional, spiritual, psychological pain after an abortion decision.
Because I represent the post-abortive audience, and Ramah International offers a popular abortion recovery Bible study, many contact me for specific information regarding this audience. Over the years, I’ve communicated with tens of thousands of women who have made this choice. It is from that exponential experience that I draw conclusions.
As most readers understand, it is difficult to study the impact of abortion using social science survey data as many women do not openly reveal their abortion experiences. Even Planned Parenthood and other abortion researchers struggle with the reasons why women continue to choose abortion. Therefore it’s difficult to deliver any statistically significant information on the post-abortive audience.
The American Psychological Association (APA) put together a taskforce in 2008 to study the claim that abortion can lead to emotional, psychological or spiritual consequences. The study was entitled, “Report of the APA task Force on Mental Health and Abortion” (http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/abortion/index.aspx). While unable to make a direct connection between mental health and abortion, the authors eventually concluded the following:
“There is unlikely to be a single definitive research study that will determine the mental health implications of abortion “once and for all” given the diversity and complexity of women and their circumstances.”
The report also outlined several factors that are predictive of more negative psychological response following first-trimester abortion among women in the United States. These include:
- perceptions of stigma;
- need for secrecy;
- low or anticipated social support for the abortion decision;
- a prior history of mental health problems;
- personality factors such as low self-esteem and use of avoidance and denial coping strategies;
- characteristics of the particular pregnancy, including the extent to which the woman wanted and felt committed to it.
The task force also outlined that, “Women obtain abortions for different reasons; at different times of gestation; via differing medical procedures; and within different personal, social, economic, and cultural contexts. All of these may lead to variability in women’s psychological reactions following abortion. Consequently, global statements about the psychological impact of abortion on women can be misleading.”
Their final conclusion, however, was, “Nonetheless, it is clear that some women do experience sadness, grief, and feelings of loss following termination of a pregnancy, and some experience clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety.”
In researching the true connection that will legitimize the pain many feel after abortion, analysts on both pro and anti abortion sides have yet to compile any scientifically secure information to make a final determination. Conclusions based on lack of statistical data are meaningless.
In their Fact Sheet, entitled “The Emotional Effects of Induced Abortion,” (January, 2007) Planned Parenthood admits that there are some variables that can affect the emotional outcome of abortion. Below are a few of these “emotional” aspects of abortions that they now recognize:
- Emotionally unstable women with unstable living conditions, such as being in conflict with their parents, will most likely react to an unwanted pregnancy in a disturbed fashion — whether or not they bring their pregnancies to term.
- Women, however, who expect to cope well with abortion, do. In general, women having a high degree of social, partner, and parental support for their decisions experience less distress or regret over their decisions.
- Women whose partners do not expect to cope well with an abortion may be more depressed, particularly when the woman herself feels this way, than women whose partners have positive expectations.
- According to a study looking at data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, feelings of distress felt after an abortion procedure are not experienced long-term if a woman has a high level of self-esteem or well-being before the pregnancy.
- Adolescents who feel that they have decided to have an abortion without pressure to do so from parents or others are less likely to experience negative reactions. Obversely, women who are persuaded by their partners against their own wishes to elect abortion experience greater feelings of guilt.
- Those who choose abortion because of genetic conditions may suffer more serious emotional effects and may have a greater need for counseling than those who elect abortion for socioeconomic or psychological reasons.
Ponder this — if abortion was such a great choice, why wouldn’t more be speaking about their personal experiences at a public level? Why would I personally be one of the handful of healthy voices confessing this pain worldwide? The “silence” of post-abortive people only reinforces the regret potential.
Every choice we make can have an impact on our future. I am grateful for the support of a pregnancy center’s abortion recovery program nearly 20 years ago for helping me grieve this past pregnancy loss in a healthy manner. My life was forever changed by the compassionate care and love I received in their midst.
Whether anyone ever proves this pain as a true mental health issue makes no difference. For those of us who made this choice, we know differently.
If you are struggling with a past abortion decision, please visit http://herchoicetoheal.com/ for more insight, education and comfort. Pregnancy centers across the world offer abortion recovery services. To locate the center in your area, visit https://ramahinternational.org/help-in-your-area/
Sydna A. Massé is President and Founder or Ramah International and author of the book, Her Choice to Heal: Finding Spiritual and Emotional Peace After Abortion.