POST ABORTION SYNDROME

The extent and reality of post abortion syndrome is controversial, because of the implications to the abortion debate.
Abortion Rights groups and medical professionals involved with abortion, maintain that only a small percentage of women could be affected, if at all.
  • Mental health professionals tend to dismiss PAS, claiming that any emotional disorders following an abortion are due to pre-existing conditions, not the abortion itself.
  • Feminists argue that post abortion syndrome is largely a "scare tactic", employed by anti-abortionists to dissuade women from seeking an abortion.
  • The editor of afterabortion.com (who had an abortion) argues that war veterans get official recognition, distressed post-abortive women do not.
  • PAS is stuck in the political war of abortion. Because of politics and money, PAS is not recognised as a reality.
  • If a woman suffers from PAS after an abortion, concern for her actual health problem may be lacking.
While people argue as to whether or not abortion causes long-term psychological distress, the available evidence indicates that many women experience what is termed 'post abortion syndrome' (PAS), or trauma.

Key in 'post abortion syndrome' on Google and you will find a plethora of sites dedicated to this complex issue.

PAS was first identified and named by an American doctor who specialised in treating Vietnam War veterans suffering from '"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder'.

The 'disorder' usually affected veterans who had experienced heavy combat. Returning to civilian life, they repressed their traumatic memories for years before the severity of their problems forced them to seek help.

The usual symptoms were nightmares, depression, suicidal thoughts and vivid 'flash-backs' re-living traumatic combat experiences.

The doctor noticed that the same symptoms occurring in women patients who had experienced abortions. After an initial feeling of relief following the abortion, the women went into deep denial and repression as a coping mechanism. This effort could be maintained for ten, fifteen, or even twenty years before surfacing.

More recent studies indicate that PAS surfaces usually around seven years.

The extent and reality of post abortion syndrome is controversial, because of the implications to the abortion debate.
The extent and reality of post abortion syndrome is controversial, because of the implications to the abortion debate.

Abortion Rights groups and medical professionals involved with abortion, maintain that only a small percentage of women could be affected, if at all, and that any emotional side effects are usually short term.

For example, some senior doctors working at the most prestigious medical centres in the United States, flatly deny that PAS exists. Two of the Netherlands pioneering and most experienced abortionists, write that every woman has an emotional reaction after their abortion, which soon passes.

Mental health professionals throughout the Western world, tend to dismiss PAS, claiming that any emotional disorders following an abortion are due to pre-existing conditions, not the abortion itself. In other words, the woman had underlying mental problems before the abortion, and is deluded in thinking that the abortion is the cause of her suffering. (For a contrasting viewpoint see a newly tabled Christchurch study below.)

Feminists argue that post abortion syndrome is largely a "scare tactic", employed by anti-abortionists to dissuade women from seeking an abortion.

In the United States, the growth of post-abortion counselling and websites dedicated to PAS, appear to be meeting a need.
In the United States, the growth of post-abortion counselling and websites dedicated to PAS, appear to be meeting a need. Many are faith-based, but others like afterabortion.com take a secular approach and feature personal stories from post-abortive women.

AfterAbortion.com's editor, who herself had an abortion, comments: "When a woman chooses to abort for reasons other than a true desire to NOT have a child, serious emotional complications can arise. They can range from general depression, physical illness, avoidance of anything baby-related, to alcohol and drug abuse, irresponsible sexual behaviour, to a complete disruption of a woman's life and even suicide."

"Some women become obsessed with 'replacing' the aborted baby with a new pregnancy. Many are unable to deal with, or take care of their existing children."

Some Symptoms of Post Abortion Syndrome

  • Self-harm, strong suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
  • Increase in dangerous and/or unhealthy activities (alcohol and drug abuse, anorexia/bulimia, compulsive over-eating, casual and indifferent sex and other risk-taking behaviours)
  • Sexual dysfunction 
  • Depression that is stronger than just a little sadness or the 'blues'
  • Inability to perform normal self-care activities
  • Inability to function normally in job or school
  • Inability to take care of, or relate to existing children, or function normally in other relationships
  • A desire to immediately get pregnant and 'replace' the baby that was aborted, even when all the circumstances that led the woman to choose abortion the first time, are still in place.

What could be described as Post Abortion Syndrome, is when the woman has the symptoms listed above, and they continue for months and then years.
What could be described as Post Abortion Syndrome, is when the woman has the symptoms listed above, and they continue for months and then years. -

Other PAS problems that have been identified:
  • Emotions, and dealing with emotional issues
  • Struggles with depression
  • Continued suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Anxiety and panic disorder
  • Addictions of all kinds
  • Difficulty sleeping and sleeping problems
  • Disturbing dreams and nightmares
  • Problems with phobias, or an increase in the severity of existing phobias
  • Eating disorders
  • "Replacement baby" syndrome
  • Repeated additional pregnancies with repeat abortions
  • Repeated unplanned pregnancies carried to term
  • "Atonement marriage", where the woman marries the partner from the abortion, to help justify the abortion
  • Trouble with relationships and dealing with partners
  • Distress at the sight of other pregnant women, other people's babies and children
  • Inability to deal with, or socialise with other pregnant women, other people's babies and children
  • Co-dependence and inability to make decisions easily
  • Problems with severe and disproportionate anger
  • Work and school problems (unable to function normally)
  • Problems bonding with and caring for existing children, or new babies
  • Distress and problems with later pregnancy
  • Added emotional issues and problems when dealing with future infertility, or other physical complications resulting from abortion
  • Unhealthy obsession with excelling at work or school, to justify the abortion

  • Is there a double standard with Post Abortion Syndrome?

    The editor of afterabortion.com argues there is: war veterans get official recognition, distressed post-abortive women do not.

    The good news is that women can recover from PAS, can learn to heal from their abortion
    "Some PAS problems can be severely disruptive to a woman's life, and PAS can trouble her for months and even years after the abortion. The good news is that women can recover from PAS, can learn to heal from their abortion and go on to have happy, healthy, productive lives. Women are usually afraid or embarrassed to even admit to having an abortion, let alone talk to anyone else about problems she may be having."

    "Women are encouraged to think it is 'their fault' if they have trouble after an abortion, and that the abortion itself had nothing to do with how she feels, and that PAS is just some 'anti-choice myth'"

    "It is interesting how if a man goes off to war, and returns with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS), we don't 'blame the man', and 'protect' the war. We admit it was the war that caused PTSS."

    "We don't refuse to help the man, and don't belittle him, or invalidate his pain by saying he had 'previous psychological problems', or other issues in his life that cause the PTSS. We don't tell him that what he is struggling with 'doesn't exist'. We admit it was the whole stress and experience of war, and we help him, support him, allow him a name for his experience, and treat him to help him recover."

    When a woman has an abortion, and is traumatized by the whole experience, it is claimed that she must have had pre-existing problems, and it's her own fault she is suffering.
    "Yet when a woman has an abortion, and is traumatized by the whole experience and develops PAS, people are quick to 'blame the woman', and 'protect abortion', and claim there's no way abortion could have caused this. The woman must have had pre-existing problems, and it's her fault she is suffering."

    "The woman is left alone to suffer, with no help, treatment, support, or a name for her experience. The fierce war between people who have differing views on abortion, has turned into a war that is hurting women, as people go out of their way to minimize women's problems after an abortion, and 'blame the woman' for any trouble she is having."

    "I am in the middle with my views, as I believe that abortion should remain legal and safe, and that every woman has the right to make her own choices concerning her body and her life. However, people need to know that Post Abortion syndrome is a real medical issue, and can cause serious emotional, or physical complications after an abortion."

    Why Post Abortion Syndrome is not officially recognised

    "It's the money and politics, stupid!", said the editor of afterabortion.com, when comment- ing on why PAS is considered too hot to handle.
    The editor of afterabortion.com comments in "It's the money and politics, stupid!", on why PAS is considered too hot to handle.

    She begins by noting that pre-menstrual tension (officially called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, PMDD) is now recognised by pharmaceutical companies as a real women's health issue.

    "So PMDD joins Post Partum Depression (post natal depression), as another hormone-related illness for women, that is recognised as 'real' by the medical community, has a name and can be treated."

    "Post Abortion Syndrome affects an unknown number of women, is not medically recognised as a 'real' problem, nor does it have the backing of the at-large medical community."

    "Why not? Because PAS is stuck in the political war of abortion. Because of politics and money, PAS is not recognised as real, yet PMDD and PPD are. Women suffering from PMDD and PPD are given help, support and treatment. Women with PAS are not, and are left to suffer alone in silence."

    "Let's start with the politics angle. There's nothing political about PMDD or a menstrual period. Every woman, Christian, atheist, pro-choice, pro-life, gets their period. And a pro-choicer wouldn't complain about women getting treated for PMDD, or say that it hurts the cause of women's freedom of choice."

    "A pro-lifer wouldn't use Post Partum Depression as a way to try and discourage childbirth, and say that childbirth or menstruation 'hurts' women, or that childbirth is killing women. Those issues are non-political women's health issues. There's no 'bad side' to be on with these problems."

    "Yet with Post Abortion Syndrome, it's very different. If a woman suffers from PAS after an abortion, the concern for her actual health problem disappears and she becomes a pawn in the rhetoric of the abortion war. She gets no official treatment or support for her health problems. She gets told what she is experiencing does not exist, or 'only happens to women with previous psychological problems'. (As if having a previous psychological problem would suddenly mean that you wouldn't need treatment, support or help for your new problem!?)"

    "The pro-choice majority claim PAS 'does not exist', and that anti-abortionists are using it to try and scare women away from abortion, and to try and influence lawmakers that abortion is dangerous."

    NZ Study Links Abortion with Mental Disorders - Will It be Ignored, or Acted Upon?
    Post-Abortion Syndrome Recovery
    NZ Study Links Abortion with Mental Disorders - Will It be Ignored, or Acted Upon?
    An intriguing aspect of the recent study into abortion and mental health is the lack of curiosity from medical authorities.


    An intriguing aspect of the recent study into abortion and mental health is the lack of curiosity from medical authorities. Pro-Life Times understands that so far there have been no enquiries from NZ medical and health bodies in regard to the study's findings.

    The results of the research by the Canterbury Health and Development Study received serious coverage in the major NZ newspapers on January 3rd. The Study team has followed the progress of 1265 children born in Christchurch from 1977.

    What gave the Study's findings an extra twist, was the admission by Professor David Fergusson that he was personally "pro-choice", a rationalist, and deeply concerned that his findings would be misused by both sides of the abortion debate. The research had also led to unexpected conclusions.

    The NZ Herald headlined their story by Ruth Hill, "Abortion researcher stunned by study". The Christchurch team found that at age 25, 42% of the post-abortive women experienced major depression at some stage during the past four years. That was almost double the rate of women who never became pregnant. The risks of anxiety disorders also doubled.

    "Those having an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance use disorders."

    The Study was finally published in the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, after being turned down by four other medical journals who usually accepted the team's research without any problems. Professor Fergusson speculated that the refusal might have something to do with the "controversial nature of the topic."

    Questioning the overseas consensus:

    On page 22, the Study team comment: "The present research raises the possibility that for some young women, exposure to abortion is a traumatic life event which increases longer-term susceptibility to common mental disorders. These findings are inconsistent with the current consensus on the psychological effects of abortion."

    "In particular in its 2005 statement on abortion, the American Psychological Association concluded that 'well-designed studies of psychological responses following abortion have consistently shown that risk of psychological harm is low... the percentage of women who experience clinically relevant distress is small and appears to be no greater than in general samples of women of reproductive age.'"

    In polite and understated language the Study team suggest that the APA's "relatively strong conclusion" is based on a small number of limited studies and disregards other studies that show negative effects for abortion.

    The Study concludes with these words: "It is difficult to disregard the real possibility that abortion among younger women is associated with increased risk of mental health problems. There is a clear need for further well-controlled studies to examine this issue before strong conclusions can be drawn about the extent to which exposure to abortion has harmful effects on the mental health of young women."

    How did the Abortion Supervisory Committee react?

    Ken Orr of Right to Life, through the Official Information Act, obtained an exchange of letters between the ASC and Professor Fergusson in June 2004. The date is significant because it means that the ASC received early clear and extensive advice about the serious risks identified to women's mental health.

    While the ASC has no authority or oversight of the individual decisions of the consultant doctors, it is responsible for the general oversight of the work of the certifying consultants - who were approving up to 98% of abortions on the grounds that continuing the pregnancy would be more dangerous to the mental health of the mother.

    Dr P. Reid, for the ASC, wrote to Professor Fergusson questioning the Study's methodology and suggested that: "publishing the results in this state would be to put these unclarified results into the arena, where they will be used as a political football for all sides."

    In response, on the 11th June, 2004, Professor Fergusson sent the ASC a detailed analysis of Dr P. Reid's critique, along with a separate summary of the main points:

    • "We have considered the other methodological points made by Dr Reid and show that it is unlikely any of the issues raised threaten study viability."
    • "We are concerned at the conclusion that it would be undesirable to publish the results since they could become a 'political football'. We are fully aware of the circus that publication of our results will provoke.

      At the same time, given the paucity of the evidence in this area, we are obliged to publish our results. To provide a parallel to this situation - if we were to find evidence of an adverse reaction to medication, we would be obliged ethically to publish that fact. The same ethical obligation exists for finding that abortion may have adverse psychiatric sequelae."
    • (Professor Fergusson's emphasis) "It is our view that the response made to Dr Reid's critique raises two important issues that the Abortion Supervisory Committee may wish to consider. The first, and perhaps more important result, is that Dr Reid's critique has been shown not to explain away our results.

      If the ASC wishes to dismiss our findings as being due to a methodological error, it will need to do so on grounds other than those advanced by Dr Reid."
    • "My second point concerns the ethical dilemma our findings may pose. It is, in my view, quite scandalous that a procedure that is applied to over 1 in 10 women before age 21, has not been thoroughly evaluated to examine adverse reaction.

      This is particularly the case, given the many (ideologically based) claims that abortion is a cause of trauma in women. Our results inevitably raise the distinct possibility that such claims may have some foundation."
    • "In such a climate, I believe that what is required to advance knowledge in this area, is not ideological/methodological debate over our findings, but rather a considered investment in further well-designed studies aimed at examining possible adverse psycho-social consequences of teenage abortion."

    Suppression would be scientifically irresponsible:

    In the last paragraph of his analysis of the ASC critique, Professor Fergusson comments:

    "Dr Reid comments on the problematic consequences of publishing this research. We are fully aware that the publication of these results is likely to provoke a large and undisciplined debate in which we will be lauded by the anti-abortionists and dammed by the pro-abortionists.

    My reading of the literature in this area suggests that it is one of the most methodologically flawed and research illiterate areas I have encountered (with the possible exception of the sexual abuse research literature of 1980s).

    I fully expect that we will spend large amounts of time answering vexatious critiques designed to promote a particular viewpoint. We are, nonetheless, determined to publish these results.

    The aims of the CHDS have always been to publish important findings irrespective of whether or not they support our own prejudices, or contradict influential and strongly held positions.

    It would be scientifically irresponsible to suppress these findings simply on the grounds that the results will be controversial and can be used as a 'political football'".

    Implication of the CHDS Study on medicine and law:

    David Reardon of the pro-life Elliot Institute in the USA, writes in their latest report (10th February, 2006) that "reaction to the Christchurch study is heating up the political debate in the United States.

    "The study was introduced into the official record at the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Also, a congressional subcommittee chaired by Representative Mark Souder (Republican, Indiana) has asked the National Institutes of Health to report on what efforts the NIH is undertaking to confirm or refute Fergusson's findings."

    "The impact of the study in other countries may be even more profound. The Christchurch study may require NZ doctors to certify far fewer abortions. The best evidence indicates that abortion is more likely to increase the risk to mental health problems.

    Physicians who ignore this study may no longer be able to argue that they are acting in good faith and may therefore be in violation of the law."