This is one of the most sensitive topics to discuss, maybe due to the conflicting ideologies about it or because very few studies have been done to examine the psychological effects of the abortion procedure. Some say the post abortive syndrome is a “false claim” and that it is “nonexistent”. For example, Kelly (2014) expresses that it is borrowed from the post-traumatic stress disorder. She highlights a study, done by The Reagan Administration in 1980s, that aimed at reviewing literature on the psychological effects of abortion. The conclusion of the study was that there wasn’t a conclusive number of studies done to prove that post abortive syndrome is real.
According to Kelly (2014), scientific evidence has only provided proof of the medical risks like infertility, infection and blood clots. She asserts that individuals who legitimize the post-abortive syndrome make their claims based on broad and vague claims. This, according to her, is especially confirmed when women who have procured an abortion deny to have had the symptoms associated with the post abortive syndrome.
On the other hand, researchers and psychologists who state that the post-abortive syndrome is real explain that there is a ten to fifteen-year duration in which women who have been traumatized by their abortion procedures suppress their thoughts and emotions about the experience. The memories only then become triggered by the conception of a wanted child or any other life stressing circumstance. According to Theresa Burke, sometimes the trauma sinks so deeply into the unconscious part of the mind and never resurfaces but the woman is still physically, emotionally and spiritually affected.
Some of the symptoms of the post-abortive syndrome that Theresa Burke identified include avoiding intimacy, not being able to connect with the other children she conceives and or emotional grief. Additionally, the Elliot institute for social science research reported the following statistics associated with women who have had an abortion, 90% of the women reported to have suffered damage to their self-esteem, 50% reported to have begun or increased in alcohol and drug use behavior, 60% reported to have suicidal ideations, 28% attempted to commit suicide, 20% suffered from a full blown post-traumatic stress disorder.
Due to these symptoms, it is important to increase awareness of this syndrome because most of the times women are not able to associate their emotional, psychological and behavioral challenges to the trauma caused by procuring an abortion. As a result, their suppressed or repressed emotions and thoughts show as psychological and or behavioral difficulties in other areas. They find an outlet through self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse, promiscuity and workaholism. Other unhealthy coping mechanisms include eating disorders, sexual dysfunctions; they are likely to also experience interpersonal problems, clinical and or post-partum depression or even nightmares.
Moreover, not all women who have procured an abortion are comfortable enough to talk about it and the challenges they experience afterwards. This is because, if they express their struggle to the pro-choice advocates, they are told that it was their right to choose what to do with their body or that it was not yet a baby. This invalidates their experience and makes them suppress their thoughts or feelings about it. If they express their concerns to the pro-life advocates, they are likely to be told how what they did was wrong, how no one has the right to take a life, or how judgement will be made against them by either the government or God. This lack of support makes the trauma even worse as it brings about more negative emotions.
It is therefore, important for individuals to acknowledge that whether pro-life or pro-choice it is possible for a woman to experience psychological harm, also known as the post-abortive syndrome, due to pregnancy termination. As a psychologist, I have worked with women who have experienced or are dealing with abortion trauma, however, not all women do report having the behavioral, emotional or psychological problems associated with abortion. This begs the question, who is really at risk of the post abortion syndrome?
A study done to find this out reported that having any sense of reservation or ambivalence either because of conflicting moral views about abortions or an opposing desire to have the baby despite feeling highly pressured to terminate the pregnancy increases your likelihood of getting the post abortive syndrome. Some of the factors that pressures one into having an abortion include, withdrawing emotional support if she keeps the baby, financial difficulties, being unmarried, health problems and other social expectations. Of the 252 women in the study who had terminated a pregnancy around 60% of them felt ambivalent about the procedure and around 70% of them had a negative moral view of the procedure. Only around 20% were confident enough with their choice to even seek illegal abortion options if the legal options were not present.
This goes to show how a high percentage of women who terminate a pregnancy are likely to experience the post-abortive syndrome. It is high time we created a safe space for people to seek help and express their challenges. We at psyche-interventions understand and have an unconditional positive regard towards any individual who feels they need to be listened to or helped in order to overcome the trauma of a procured abortion. Contact us and we will help you book an appointment with our psychologist so that you can begin your journey towards healing.