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Emotional Aspects Of Abortion

Definition

Abortion occurs when a pregnancy ends or is ended before birth takes place. When a woman decides to end her pregnancy for personal or health-related reasons, she may choose an elective medical abortion or an elective surgical abortion.

What is the information for this topic?

Research findings suggest that a woman who chooses to have an abortion usually has at least 3 reasons for the decision. The following are common reasons:
  • She believes she is unprepared for the changes that motherhood would bring. These include changes affecting a job, further education, or the achievement of life goals.
  • She cannot afford to care for a child.
  • She does not want to be a single parent.
  • She does not feel prepared or mature enough for the responsibility of parenthood.
  • She does not want anyone to know that she has been sexually active or that she is pregnant.
  • She does not want more children.
  • Her partner or parent wants her to have an abortion.
  • She or the unborn child has a health problem.
  • Her pregnancy is the result of incest or rape
Studies indicate that most women experience a mixture of feelings after an abortion.
However, women tend to report only one positive emotion after an abortion - relief. This response is understandable, especially in light of the fact that the majority of aborting women report "feeling under intense pressure to get it over with."
Unfortunately, the temporary feeling of relief can be followed by a period that mental health professionals identify as emotional "paralysis," or post-abortion "numbness." These women are often unable to express or even feel their own emotions.
Studies show that within the first few weeks after an abortion between 40 and 60 percent of women report negative emotional responses. For example, within 8 weeks after an abortion:
  • 55% of women felt guilty,
  • 44% reported nervous disorders,
  • 36% had sleep disturbances,
  • 31% regretted their decision, while
  • 11% had been prescribed psychotropic medicine by their family doctor
In another study of 500 women who had aborted their unborn child, 50 percent reported negative feelings, and about 10 percent developed "serious psychiatric complications."
Thirty to fifty percent of women who have aborted report experiencing sexual dysfunctions, of both short and long duration, beginning immediately after their abortions. These problems may include one or more of the following:
  • loss of pleasure from intercourse,
  • increased pain,
  • an aversion to sex and/or males in general, or
  • the development of a promiscuous life-style.
Up to 33 percent of aborted women develop an intense longing to become pregnant again in order to "make up" for the lost pregnancy, with 18 percent succeeding within one year of the abortion.
Unfortunately, many women who succeed at obtaining their "wanted" replacement pregnancy discover that the same problems which pressured them into having their first abortion still exist, and so they end up feeling "forced" into yet another abortion.
In a study of teenage abortion patients, half suffered a worsening of psychosocial functioning within 7 months after the abortion. The immediate impact appeared to be greatest on the patients who were under 17 years of age and for those with previous psychosocial problems.
Symptoms included:
  • self-reproach,
  • depression,
  • social regression,
  • withdrawal,
  • obsession with need to become pregnant again, and
  • hasty marriages
On average there appears to be a five to ten year period of denial after an abortion. During this time period, a woman who was emotionally traumatized by her abortion may repress her feelings. She may also go to great lengths to avoid people, situations, or events which she associates with her abortion and she may even become vocally defensive of abortion in order to convince others, and herself, that she made the right choice and is satisfied with the outcome
Women who are found to have been severely emotionally traumatized by their abortion may have just failed to reach a state of "closure" with regard to their abortion.
Other women who would otherwise appear to have been satisfied with their abortion experience, are reported to enter into emotional crisis decades later with the onset of menopause or after their youngest child leaves home.6,21
Numerous researchers have reported that post-abortion emotional crises occur on the anniversary date of the abortion or the unachieved "due date" of the aborted baby. These emotional crises may occur for many years.
A 5 year study in two Canadian provinces found that 25% of aborted women made visits to psychiatrists as compared to 3% of the control group. Women who have undergone post-abortion counseling report over 100 major reactions to abortion. Among the most frequently reported are:
  • depression,
  • loss of self-esteem,
  • self-destructive behavior,
  • sleep disorders,
  • memory loss,
  • sexual dysfunction,
  • chronic problems with relationships,
  • dramatic personality changes,
  • anxiety attacks,
  • guilt and remorse,
  • difficulty grieving,
  • increased tendency toward violence,
  • chronic crying,
  • difficulty concentrating,
  • flashbacks,
  • loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and people, and
  • difficulty bonding with later children
Among the most concerning of these emotional reactions is the increase of self-destructive behavior among women who have aborted. In one survey of over 100 women who had suffered from post-abortion trauma, eighty percent expressed feelings of "self-hatred."
In the same study, 49 percent reported drug abuse and 39 percent began to use or increased their use of alcohol. Approximately 14 percent described themselves as having become "addicted" or "alcoholic" after their abortions.
In addition, 60 percent reported suicidal ideation, with 28 percent actually attempting suicide, of which half attempted suicide two or more times.24
Severe emotional reactions of a different sort following an abortion can occur in a woman who wanted the pregnancy but would have risked her health if she continued to full-term delivery. In some ways, for many women, this type of emotional trauma may be more difficult than that of a miscarriage.
In any case, these negative emotional responses to an abortion may persist for months or years and require sensitive counseling. In addition, women with negative emotional responses to abortion may be comforted by counseling with a pastoral professional and attending a formal small group with other women who have similar experiences.

Sources

"Psychological Responses After Abortion." Science, April 1990, 248: 41-44, Adler, NE, et al. "Psychological Factors in Abortion: A Review." American Psychologist, 1992, 47(10): 1194-1204, Adler NE, et al. "Post Abortion Issues Fact Sheet." National Abortion Federation, 1999, Almeling, et al.

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