Physical and Psychological Complications of Abortion

Part 1: Post-Abortion Syndrome

Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS) is a term that has been used to describe the emotional and psychological consequences of abortion. Whenever we go through a traumatic experience, without the opportunity to process the experience emotionally, we can expect a delayed negative reaction. We live in a society that ignores the painful consequences of abortion. Men and women who have experienced it are urged into denial, so they do not talk about and process the normal feelings of anxiety, fear, shame, guilt and grief which often follow the abortion. When such emotions are denied and buried, they will often resurface having been magnified by time.

To cope with the emotional pain that accompanies abortion, the woman may develop a set of defense mechanisms to justify her decision. They may include:

Rationalization. These are reasons a woman gives for having an abortion that explain what she is doing or did is good.

Repression. The woman is not aware of any negative feelings that she may have had about the abortion.

Suppression. This occurs when a woman erases any negative feelings about abortion from her mind and will not allow herself to contemplate her personal feelings.

Compensation. This occurs when the woman becomes pregnant soon after her abortion to make up for the aborted child. She may abort this one also to reinforce her belief that abortion is right or carry the baby to term to serve as a substitute for the aborted baby.

Symptoms of PAS.

The following symptoms may not appear at the same time, nor is any woman likely to experience the entire list. Some may occur immediately after an abortion, and others may take months or even years to surface.

Guilt. Feelings of guilt are among the most common immediate as well as delayed reactions to abortion. Guilt is a normal reaction that usually surfaces after the woman recognizes that abortion is wrong and that she is responsible for committing her own abortion. Guilt is what we feel when we have violated our own moral code. One study found that fully 70% of aborting women expressed general disapproval of abortion, yet tended to rationalize themselves as "exceptions" to the rules. This "exception" clause was enunciated by one girl after an abortion who said: "It's murder, but it's justifiable murder." (Aborted Women, Silent No More: Twenty Women Share Their Personal Journeys from the Tragedy of Abortion to Restored Wholeness by David C. Reardon p. 121- See the Resource List on Part 3). As one woman said: "We were convinced that the abortion was the best thing rather than the right thing." (Linda Bird Francke, The Ambivalence of Abortion. New York: Random House, 1978. P.99 as quoted in Reardon's book, p. 122 - See the Resource List on Part 3).

For the woman who comes to believe, at some point after the abortion, that she has consented to the killing of her pre-born child, the burden of guilt is relentless. There is little consolation to offer the woman who has transgressed one of nature's strongest instincts: the mother's protection of her young.

This inner voice of self-condemnation begins playing a repeating tape in the mind that accuses, "You are defective. How could you have done this thing? You are a desperately wicked person." It is also normal for many post-abortive women entering therapy to verbalize their belief that any unhappy events that have occurred since the abortion were inevitable because they "deserved it." Most of the remaining symptoms below result from listening to that mental tape day in and day out.

Anger. The woman will often express her guilt and shame through anger at herself and others involved in the abortion decision such as her parents, friends, doctor, the baby's father and men in general. She may also be angry with her children or future children, which often results in abuse. In the first 10 years after legalization of abortion, child abuse increased over 500%. (US Dept. of HHS 1991). One study showed 91% of abused children are from planned pregnancies. (University of Southern California Professor Edward Lenoski, Heartbeat, vol.3, no. 4, Dec. 1980.) Studies indicate that child abuse is more frequent among mothers who previously had an abortion. This is due to the guilt and depression hindering the mother's ability to bond with her children. (Dr. Philip G. Ney, "A Consideration of Abortion Survivors," Child Psychiatry and Human Development (Vol. 13-3, Spring 1983), p.172, cited Alcorn p. 111-113 and Michels p.75-87, 168 - See Part 3 -Resource List).

Anxiety. Anxiety is defined as an unpleasant emotional and physical state of apprehension. Post-abortive women with anxiety may experience any of the following: tension (inability to relax, irritability, etc.), physical responses (dizziness, pounding heart, upset stomach, headache, etc.), worry about the future, disturbed sleep.

The conflict between a woman's moral standards and her decision to abort generates much of this anxiety. Very often, she will not relate her anxiety to a past abortion, and yet she will unconsciously begin to avoid anything having to do with babies. She may make excuses for not attending a baby shower, skip the baby aisle at the grocery store and so forth.

Broken relationships. Abortions performed with the hope of saving a relationship seldom succeed. Pro-abortion advocate Linda Bird Franck notes that almost every relationship between single people broke up either before or after the abortion. (Reardon, p.123-124).

Depression and sense of loss. These "post-abortion blues" generally fade within a few months, but prolonged, deep depression is not uncommon. Depression is a mood filled with sadness, guilt and feelings of hopelessness. Some women report feeling completely immobilized by their emotional state and unable to get interested in anyone or anything since the abortion. Uncontrollable crying which can be daily and may continue for years: sometimes lasting for hours or days at a time. Those who report a sense of loss describe a number of related reactions such as the inability to look at other babies, or pregnant mothers, or a jealousy of mothers. Many consciously seek a replacement pregnancy.

Psychological "numbing". A person who has experienced a highly painful loss will sometimes develop an instinct to avoid future situations that might lead them into serious pain. Many post-abortive women maintain a secret vow that they will never again allow themselves to be put in such a vulnerable position. As a result, without consciously thinking about what they are doing, they may work hard to keep their emotions on a flat level, experiencing neither highs nor lows. Not only does this flatness of emotional experience affect their own outlook, but it greatly hampers their ability to form and maintain close relationships.

Suicide. Feelings of rejection, low self-esteem, guilt and depression are all ingredients for suicide. According to one study, women who have had abortions are nine times more likely to attempt suicide than women in the general population. (Ann Saltenberger, Every Woman Has a Right to Know the Dangers of Legal Abortion. p. 19, quoted in Reardon p.129)

Other psychological problems which may develop include re-experiencing the abortion, survival guilt, development of eating disorders, and alcohol and drug abuse. Sleep problems include nightmares concerning the abortion, often involving the "return" of the aborted child. It is not uncommon for a woman to become obsessed with the "would have been" birth date and imagining the child as old as she would have been if born.

Teenagers who have abortions are especially vulnerable to PAS because they are at a critical developmental period of their life. Even though teens are likely to be most deeply affected by abortions, they are also likely to be the least expressive about their doubts and pains. Instead of being encouraged to accept the consequences of her choices, and to mature through the responsibilities of parenthood, she is encouraged to "mature" through infantile destruction. (Lynn D. Wardle and Mary Ann Wood, A Lawyer Looks at Abortion, 1982, p.117, and Saltenberger, Every Woman, p.152, cited in Reardon p.133.)

  • Part 2: The Tasks of Healing
  • Part 3: Resource List
  • Part 4: Procedural Risks & Complications
  • Part 5: The Second Victims of Abortion
  • Back to Post-Abortion Problems main page