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What Is Post-Abortion Syndrome? Is It Real?

Abortion is a controversial topic, which is filled with lot of myths, such as getting an abortion can increase the risk for breast cancer or it can cause difficulties in getting pregnant in the future or in successfully carrying a pregnancy to its completion. However, according to medical research, there is no proof of this (1, 6).

There is a lot of debate going around the association between abortion and acute severe emotional symptoms. According to some individuals, abortion is a traumatic experience, which can cause “post-abortion syndrome.” This is referred to the emotional trauma and distress felt after getting an abortion and this seems to have a long term effect on the mental health.

There are some who say that post-abortion syndrome is a legitimate medical condition; whereas, others who think it is just a psychological phenomenon, which has been made up to discourage women from getting an abortion

In this article we will look closely at post-abortion syndrome and whether there is an association between abortion and mental health.

How real is Post-Abortion Syndrome?

It is normal to feel intense emotions just before and immediately after getting an abortion. However, there has been no proof found that these emotions persist or continue to have a long term effect on the mental health.

Other than this, the International Classification of Diseases has not termed it as official diagnosis of post-abortion syndrome, neither is it in the recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

On the contrary, there is a lot of research that says that abortion does not, in majority of the patients, contribute to any lasting distress or cause a trauma response.

Experts also say that patients after getting an abortion do feel complex emotions associated with abortion; however, the attempt to classify their experience as a condition is not helpful. Each patient has a different response to abortion, which can vary from complicated to relatively simple.

What are the Potential Symptoms of Post-Abortion Syndrome?

People who support the presence of post-abortion syndrome compared it to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as both have many similarities including similar symptoms (2). Some of the common symptoms related with post-abortion syndrome are: mood changes, tearfulness, depression, feelings of anger, numbness or grief;  regret, guilt  or in denial of the abortion; suicidal thoughts; flashbacks, substance use, low self-esteem; relationship issues, fear of future pregnancy and having nightmares and disrupted sleep.

There are some people who think that post-abortion syndrome can also play a role in causing problems in a relationship along with changes in sexual interests or behavior like:

  • Losing interest in sex or decreased libido.
  • Avoiding intimacy with a romantic partner.
  • Or experiencing excess interest in sex.

Some have theorized that the latter symptom is associated with the need to get pregnant again, so as to “make up for” the abortion. These symptoms are thought to develop shortly after the abortion and can be persistent for months and even years.

What Is It That Women Feel After Getting An Abortion?

Mental health experts do not give an official diagnosis of post-abortion syndrome; however, they say that emotional experiences after getting an abortion varies quite a bit from one patient to another. The loss of pregnancy can cause disruption of the hormone cycle and it can potentially lead to negative feelings. Patient can also feel relieved and emotionally affected at the same time. There is an entire gamut of feelings that consist of traumatic stress to relief and all this is considered normal to experience after the abortion (3).

Research from 2018 and 2013 suggests that the common feelings that are experienced by women are (4):

Relief: The results of studies that were done to look into the different emotions post abortion consistently found that relief is the most common feeling after getting an abortion. It doesn’t matter if the patient needed some time to decide or if she knew immediately that she wanted to get an abortion, the fact remains that the patient was well aware that continuing the pregnancy was not the right choice for her at the time. The option of terminating the pregnancy in a safe manner allowed the patient to continue living her life as she had planned. It is okay to feel relief after the abortion and it is nothing to feel guilty about. This feeling further strengthens the knowledge that it was the right decision for the patient in moving forward.

Guilt: There are some women who experience guilt after getting an abortion. This guilt can be linked with the pregnancy itself and not so much with the abortion; as in the patient regrets that they did not take more care in their choice of contraception or that they were irresponsible as to have an unwanted pregnancy in this day and age.

Feeling guilty can be a result of personal feelings regarding the abortion. It could be that the patient never thought that she would get an abortion ever and has had difficulty in coming to terms with the decision of abortion being the best choice for her.

It is important to bear in mind that experiencing conflicting emotions is quite normal, such as feeling relief along with feelings of guilt.

Sadness: A person can experience varied and complex emotions more so that are related to difficult or significant life decisions. Even if relief is the prominent feeling that one is experiencing, it is also normal to feel sad or grief after getting the abortion or after making the decision of getting one.

There may be many reasons why one opts for abortion, such as financial instability, not ready emotionally and so on and this led the patient to come to the conclusion that abortion was the best option at the point in her life. Even with relief there are always some feelings of grief regarding the loss of the pregnancy.

Even if you don’t feel sad and the predominant feeling is that of relief, then also it is completely normal.

Regret: There are some women who feel regret after getting an abortion; and this feeling of regret can be present along with a confusing sense of relief. Even if the patient knew that getting an abortion was the right option for her, it is still normal and understandable to feel some regret.  Regret can be experienced on getting pregnant or with regards to the need for an abortion. Regret can be felt if the patient feels that she is not in the right place in her life where she can see herself becoming a mother or if she feels that her partner is not right for co-parenting.

Despite all these mixed feelings, majority of the women who have undergone abortions feel confident in their decision even after years of getting this procedure.

If Abortion Is The Right Choice, Then Why Do Some Feel More Distress or Experience “post-abortion syndrome?”

In some cases, women do experience severe emotional symptoms or lingering distress after getting the abortion. However, this is commonly associated with preexisting problems that the patient already had before conceiving or deciding on an abortion. There are some factors which increase the risk of experiencing emotional turmoil, stress and other complex emotions associated with abortion. Some of these factors can include:

Not sure about getting an abortion: There are a lot of factors which make a women decide on getting an abortion. After going through all the important avenues does one come to conclusion that abortion is the right choice. However, despite knowing this, there can still be some uncertainty regarding this choice.

If there is a struggle regarding the decision, then the chances are that the patient may continue to think the choice she has made in getting the abortion leading to conflicted thoughts and emotions.

Lack of emotional support: Even if the patient is certain that abortion is the right choice for her, she still needs emotional support from her family, spouse and friends. Discussing important decisions helps in sorting the various thoughts and also in coming to terms with the emotions surrounding the choice of getting an abortion. When there is lack of such support, then it is likely that one feels isolated and alone. 

Personal Beliefs: There are many women who have personal values or beliefs where abortion is not right according to these and yet they had to get it done due to whatever circumstances in their life. This causes lot of distress and regret after getting the abortion, which can be termed as “post-abortion syndrome.”

Exposure To Anti-Abortion Protests and The Stigma Associated With Abortion

Anti-abortion protests and messages can affect a person’s mind quite negatively. Despite knowing that abortion is safe to have and it is a woman’s choice to do as she pleases; the stigma associated with abortion along with the protests negatively impacts their mental health.

A research from 2016, showed women who underwent emotional upheaval and distress after getting abortion reported that their symptoms got triggered after seeing protestors at the clinic where they were getting the abortion (5).

Despite more and more women speaking about their experiences, the stigma still persists.

Existing health concerns: Having a pre-existing mental health condition or other medical problems makes the choice of getting an abortion when faced with an unplanned pregnancy even more difficult. Even if there is no confliction regarding the decision of getting an abortion, just going through a stressful situation is enough to trigger feelings of panic, anxiety or depression.

What Should You Do?

It is highly encouraged to not shy away or hesitate to ask for help if experiencing any kind of emotional turmoil after getting an abortion or if thinking of getting one. It is a difficult decision and so it is natural to feel overwhelmed with emotions and so reach out to your nearest healthcare provider or local abortion clinic where you can discuss your concerns and get your questions answered. 


There is nothing wrong in feeling the abundance of emotions after getting an abortion. These emotions can be positive like one of relief, or negative like feelings of regret or guilt. It okay to feel every kind of emotion after getting an abortion, as they are valid and normal to have after undergoing something like this. Having support from your partner, family and friends is beneficial. In case of having less support, seek out help in the form of your nearest health care provider or you can also consider counseling sessions with your therapist to share your feelings.


Also Read:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 17, 2024

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