Read this

I often wonder how much the severity of what has been termed “post-abortion syndrome” is influenced by the support services that putportedly exist to treat it. If a woman who has an abortion seeks help from such a group, and is bombarded with one-sided views deriding women for abortion and pathologizing and chastising the whole process, it’s no small suprise that she would end up feeling bad about herself and her decision. Consensus among empirical researchers seems to be that post-abortion syndrome is a crock; for example,  a 1990 study published in Science1 found that 76% of women felt relief and happiness after a first trimester abortion, that most women are more phychologically distressed before the abortion, and that post-abortion syndrome is all but undetectable in women whose anxiety or depression doesn’t have another verifiable cause (such as lack of support from family members); a 1993 study2 similarly indicated that 80% of women felt “relief and satisfaction” after an abortion. It would be interesting to see a comparative study between women who seek help from a pro-life support organizations and those who seek help elsewhere, to verify whether the attitudes espoused toward women during pro-life “post-abortion counselling” have a negative impact on women’s emotional wellbeing.

An interesting aspect that emerges from the empirical studies is that women who give up their children for adoption often experience greater emotional difficulty than women who have abortions. An essay recently posted at Shakesville expresses this fact anecdotally, and raises the question of why post-giving-up-your-baby-for-adoption depression is virtually unheard of anywhere, despite it’s apparent prevalence. (Of course, I think we all know the answer.)

I have given a baby up for adoption, and I have had an abortion, and while anecdotes are not evidence, I can assert that abortions may or may not cause depression – it certainly did not in me, apart from briefly mourning the path not taken – but adoption? That is an entirely different matter. I don’t doubt that there are women who were fine after adoption, and there is emphatically nothing wrong with that or with them; but I want to point out that if we’re going to have a seemingly neverending discussion about the sorrow and remorse caused by abortion, then it is about goddamn time that we hear from birth mothers too.

Read the full article here.


1. Adler, Nancy E., et al. “Psychological Responses After Abortion.” Science 248 (Apr. 1990), 41-44.

2. Sachdev, Paul. Sex, Abortion, and Unmarried Women. Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 1993.


3 responses to “Read this

  1. As a strongly pro-choice woman who just had an abortion and has not been to any counseling or pro-life Websites or Catholic meetings or whatnot:


    Here’s the problem.

    Pro-Choicers say that women feel ONLY relief.

    Pro-Lifers say that women feel ONLY depression, anxiety, etc.

    My first reaction WAS relief…

    Then it turned into sadness, anger, stress and maybe even depression.

    Bottom line — if you haven’t been in my shoes (or the shoes of millions like me), please don’t make it even harder for us to get treatment and help.


  2. I haven’t had an abortion and won’t attempt to speak for women who have. My life experience tells me, though, that all women are different and I find it very feasible that some women would suffer from depression, anger, and regret after having an abortion. (And for the record, I’m very much pro-choice.)

    However, I CAN say that it’s very true that giving a child up carries some serious repercussions for a mother’s mental health. And it’s also true that the pro-life community by and large don’t want to hear that, and that some organizations even actively try to silence our experiences. I gave a newborn baby up almost eight years ago now, and was given no warning at all that I might suffer from depression, PTSD, etc etc afterwards. In fact the message I was given was that over time I’d feel better and better about my decision. Instead, time has only served to intensify the conviction that giving her up was a mistake; and the lack of information about repercussions on my mental health led me to overlook the symptoms of PTSD that I developed three years after relinquishing.

    As a woman, and particularly as a woman who lost a child to adoption, I’m so tired of politicians, lobbyists, religious groups, social groups, and on and on and on… using me as a political pawn, using me and (their interpretation of) MY experience to try to make a point.

    I imagine women who’ve had abortions feel the same way.

    It would be nice if we could just allow women to have their own voices, tell their own stories, and stop trying to use other people’s experiences to prove points. (And I point the finger at myself here, too.)

  3. mackereleconomics

    SK – be careful about making unqualified accusations. The two studies I cited claim that around 80% of women experience relief after a first trimester abortion. If you follow up a little bit, Sachdev reported that 19% experienced short-duration psychological distress, which means that 1-2 percent were either neutral or experienced long-term distress. Similarly, the Science article was a meta-study that analysed numerous reported samples of women at time frames that ranged from a few hours after the abortion to 2 years, and they found similar results – “severe negative reactions after abortions are rare and can best be understood in the framework of coping with a normal life stress.”

    My concern with pro-life support services who offer post-abortion counselling is that they exaggerate the frequency, intensity and longevity of what they call “post-abortion syndrome,” at the same time that they excoriate women (often indirectly) with the same sentiments that were expressed to you by the protester at the clinic.

    I am sorry that you’re experiencing distress as a result of your abortion, but that does not change the fact that pro-life support clinics’ diagnoses seem extremely self-perpetuating, and that an empirical study of this phenomenon would help to clarify this such an accusation. This was the point of my post. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that being bombarded with anti-abortion sentiments immediately after an abortion would negatively affect a woman’s emotional health; and if that were the case, that would explain one aspect of why pro-life support services believe post-abortion syndrome is so prevalent.

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