What is Post-Abortion Syndrome?
Post-abortion syndrome is a term used for a diagnosis resulting from the termination of pregnancy. It is not any mental illness but a term used for the mixture of emotions post-pregnancy.
People supporting it believe that abortions are harmful to mental health and can lead to depression due to feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. Some also link post-abortion stress syndrome to having similar symptoms with post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, according to the American Psychiatric Association, there is no evidence of distinct mental health conditions in people who get abortions.(1)
It is not recognized by the major organizations as a real medical condition as the source of symptoms of post-abortion syndrome varies, which means the symptoms can occur due to other reasons as well. Even if a person feels bad for a long time after an abortion, the better diagnosis for it may be anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Symptoms of Post-Abortion Syndrome
The reason why post-abortion syndrome is not considered a real condition is that the symptoms are inconsistent. Different sources list different symptoms.
The most common symptoms given are:
- Spiritual or religious conflict
- Guilt and shame
- Relationship problem
Some common responses to abortion include:
Ending an unwanted pregnancy can bring in a feeling of relief and gratitude. A study found that people 5 years after the abortion had relief as a predominant emotion as they thought of abortion being the right choice.(2)
Grief or Sadness
Some people, mostly those who wanted the pregnancy and are not able to keep it experience grief or sadness after abortion. This can occur due to the lack of money, resources, or physical or mental health to raise the child.
A study shows, difficulty in making a decision to terminate pregnancy increases the likelihood of experiencing negative emotions.(2)
Some people feel scared of pregnancy and having a feeling of being able to get an abortion can make them feel happy. On comparing people who could have abortions to those who could not, it was found those having access to abortion experienced feelings of happiness about being able to go ahead with it.(3)
Abortion has a stigma surrounding it and the people who go ahead with it are considered as bad, sinful, unloving, or selfish.
The stigma coming from people’s own beliefs is termed an internalized stigma. A survey done in 2018 on 155 women in Ireland found a higher level of internalized stigma predicted psychological distress after getting an abortion.(4)
How Do People Who Cannot Access Abortion Feel?
There are no studies that show getting a voluntary abortion does not increase the risk of any mental health illness.
However, research done on people who experienced abortion to those who could not access it reported, the people who could not access it experienced:
- More regret and anger(3)
- Less happiness and relief
- Lower self-esteem(5)
- High levels of anxiety and depression
Over time, people who could not access abortion reported improvement in well-being.
Why People Feel Bad After Abortion
There are certain risk factors that might increase the risk of likelihood of negative feelings post-abortion:
- Some people who want pregnancy, but have to terminate it due to certain reasons, experience regret and sadness.
- Pressure from family or parents to abort the child.
- People campaigning against abortion make the ones who go ahead with it have a feeling of guilt.
- Social isolation is also a cause of negative feelings after an abortion.(4)
- History of neglect or abuse during childhood increases the chances of depression in those who underwent abortion.
- People with a history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions are more at risk of experiencing negative emotions after abortion.
Support After Abortion
Finding support after abortion can be a task as most of the organizations providing support are against abortion. This can lead to a person feeling guilty and ashamed about their decision.
It is therefore very important to seek help from an appropriate organization.
Post-abortion syndrome is not a medical condition. People may experience emotions such as sadness, anxiety or depression, and even a happy feeling depending on why they underwent abortion. Someone with an inappropriate feeling can seek help from a reputable organization, doctor, or therapist.