The latest qualitative study shows many women felt pressured into abortion, and have suffered a range of negative effects including anxiety, shame, guilt, depression, self destructive behaviours and suicide ideation.
The study of almost 1000 US women shows only 13% of respondents had ever sought professional counselling before they became pregnant, compared with 67.5% of women who sought help after their abortions.
The survey, Women Who Suffered Emotionally from Abortion: A Qualitative Synthesis of their Experiences, has been published in the latest edition of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.
Respondents, ranging in age from 20-72, had contacted pregnancy crisis centres associated with Christian-based organisation, CareNet.
Women were asked to name, if any, the most positive and negative aspects of their decision to have an abortion.
More than 73% of women said their decision to abort was in response to pressure, even subtle, from others.
Almost 60% of the respondents said they had the abortion to make others happy.
The report’s authors said many women “… described the abortion experience as a pivotal moment in their lives, impacting their self image, their personality, and their connectivity to others”.
“Specific commonly experienced negatives included living with having ended a life, regret, shame, guilt, depression, anxiety, negative self-appraisals, and self- destructive behaviors. At the extreme, 49 women voiced a lack of desire to continue living based on the reality of their choice and the heartache that ensued.
“The vast majority of women did not cite only one or two negative outcomes, but instead described a complex constellation of adverse consequences, often centred on the life lost.”
Many women wrote about pressure from others and feeling as if they had no choice at the time; yet the majority seemed to assume responsibility for their decision as opposed to blaming others.
“Coming to terms with the irreversibility of an abortion decision and integrating the choice into one’s understanding of self were viewed as necessary by a significant proportion of the respondents in order to continue their lives in a positive direction. For most of these women, peace and relief from a host of negative effects only arrived once they felt they had received divine forgiveness.”
Specific comments from respondents included:
“Every woman knows in her heart that abortion is wrong. Even though I was young and scared, there was a feeling of ‘working against’ myself. Through my twenties I would think about it but pushed it aside. It was only when I married and started my family that I began to really struggle with my abortion decision. When my first son was born I realised what I had done so many years ago. The love I have for my children was/is more powerful than any emotion I’ve ever experienced. The thought of anyone hurting them has an enormous effect on me as a mother. The knowledge that I ended the life of my child is difficult to manage emotionally. I have struggled over the years with being extremely hard on myself and emotionally beating up on myself. On the outside I don’t think anyone would see that. I look like I have it ‘together’. However, it is a battle that I have to be very intentional about. Regret is a crippling state of mind.’’
And from another woman:
“(I had) two attempted suicides resulting from the abortion clinic staff dismissing my request for help for post-abortive regret. Prior to the abortion, clinic staff said I could stop by the office anytime for free counselling after the abortion. I showed up a week later for a follow up and to see a counsellor for abortion regret but my feelings of regret and depression were dismissed and I was told I would eventually get over it. I did not even see a doctor during the follow up. I was just asked if I had felt sick or feverish after the abortion. Nobody took vital signs and the counsellor I was supposed to see did not work Saturdays. When I scheduled the appointment I was told a counsellor was on staff all the time to help women. It was a lie.”
The authors point out that the results cannot be used to draw more widespread general conclusions as the women self-selected by contacting the agencies seeking help for post-abortion issues.
Respondents described the “positives” of the abortion experiences as seeking forgiveness and healing, renewed faith, support for pro-life work, including sharing their experiences with other women considering abortion.
Lead author Professor Priscilla Coleman published a meta-analysis of abortion studies between 1995 and 2009 in the British Journal of Psychiatry (2011). The meta-analysis involved 877,181 participants, including 163,831 of whom had had an abortion.
The study found women who had an abortion had an 81% increased risk of mental health problems, and that 10% of mental health issues in women could be attributed to abortion.
Increased risks for other specific issues ranged from 59% for suicide ideation to 313% for drug misuse.
Women Who Suffered Emotionally From Abortion: A Qualitative Synthesis of Their Experiences, Priscilla K Coleman, Kaitlyn Boswell, Katrina Etzkorn and Rachel Turnweld, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Vol 22, Number 4, Winter 2017 www.jpands.org
Abortion and Mental Health: Quantitive Synthesis and Analysis of Research Published 1995-2009, Priscilla K Coleman, British Journal of Psychiatry, August 2011