Abortion is the very definition of a hot-button issue. Very few issues are quite as divisive and even fewer have such a fundamental gap in the way people perceive them.
For those who believe life begins at the moment of conception, it is clear that abortion must be nothing less than the murder of an unborn human life.
For people who fight for abortion rights, it is all about women having control over their own reproductive system. They view a fetus as a cluster of cells and an extension of the woman carrying it.
There is a lot of fighting between the two groups and plenty of room for disagreement. One of the main points of contention between them involves the psychological effects of having an abortion.
What are the different points of view? People who are pro-life have long cited both the physical and mental effects of having an abortion. They cite these concerns as a reason to regulate abortion and require counseling before a woman can obtain an abortion.
On the other hand, people who are pro-abortion strongly assert that abortion is physically safe for women and that there is no serious risk of adverse effects to their mental health. There has been a lot of debate about which view is backed up by evidence.
Does Having an Abortion Cause Adverse Psychological Effects?
We should begin by acknowledging that there is a great diversity among women. Obviously, every woman has their own, unique psychology. Every woman who has an abortion also does so under different circumstances. In that regard, it is somewhat tricky to generalize and automatically state that having an abortion must always cause psychological trauma.
On the other hand, it is a serious decision for any woman and it certainly has the potential to be a traumatic one.
Lately, there have been an increasing number of studies dedicated to answering the question of whether abortion must always be accompanied by psychological trauma. From these studies it is now possible to find some answers and gain a better understanding of how having an abortion effects women.
One important point to make is that no major medical group recognizes a “post abortion syndrome.” It is not recognized by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, or the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Experts simply do not find adequate evidence to support the idea that the majority of women who have abortions suffer significant and lasting psychological trauma similar to that of post-traumatic syndrome.
In fact, in 1990, Professor Nancy Adler testified on behalf of the American Psychiatric Association that “severe negative reactions after abortions are rare and can best be understood in the framework of coping with normal life stress.” That finding was affirmed when, in 2007, the APA conducted a survey of studies done on the topic since 1989.
In 2008, at the conclusion of the survey, the APA found that having a single, first-trimester abortion did not increase a woman’s chances of developing mental-health issues.
The Role of Other Factors on Post-Abortion Mental Health
Here we return to the idea that there are other factors which can contribute to any mental issues women may have after obtaining an abortion. It should be obvious that women with underlying psychological issues will be more likely to suffer additional symptoms after an abortion than women with no history of mental health issues.
It should also be obvious that women who hold religious beliefs against abortion will suffer greater incidents of mental trauma after having an abortion. It is also not surprising that women whose circumstances in life (such as poverty, abuse, a lack of emotional support from family and friends, etc.) make them generally more likely to suffer mental trauma will also feel more trauma after an abortion.
Bringing an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy to term and giving birth also carries some risk of mental trauma. The risks associated with that are not significantly greater than the risks associated with having an abortion. Multiple abortions, late-term abortions and aborting a wanted pregnancy due to severe genetic defects also carry an increased risk of associated mental trauma for the woman having the abortion.
By examining the overall risk factors that an individual woman has for mental health issues, we can best determine if she would suffer from trauma directly related to having an abortion.
The anecdotal evidence of mental trauma following abortion is compelling. Many women do indeed feel negative emotions such as guilt, depression, loss, and anger following an abortion. Many women say their thoughts return to the child they aborted, wondering what kind of person they would have grown into.
It would be cruel and short-sighted to disregard their stories. Every woman has their own reasons for terminating a pregnancy and every woman has their own way of processing it afterward.
However, the facts and the studies simply do not bear out the contention that all women will suffer mental health issues following an abortion. Many report a sense of relief and the conviction afterward that they made the correct choice.
While further study on this issue could be enlightening and help doctors and other mental health workers treat women who have had abortions, there is no need to treat abortion as an automatic threat to mental health.