Psychological Effects of Abortion – The Truth About Emotions After Abortions
Is post-abortion syndrome real? Could you experience depression after abortion? Learn the unbiased truth about the psychological effects of abortion.
Some women feel relieved after an abortion; others may experience feelings of sadness or guilt. Many have confusing or mixed emotions after abortion. For some women, these emotional effects of abortion are intense, while others may not have many or any strong feelings after abortion.
The emotional side effects of abortion have stirred up some controversy, but the truth is there is no right or wrong way to feel after an abortion. However you feel, your emotions are valid — and there is support available to you.
In this article, learn more about the emotional and mental effects of abortion, and find the resources you need if you are having difficulty coping with abortion.
How Do You Feel After an Abortion?
Emotional effects after abortion can vary widely, from relief and gratitude to sadness, anger or guilt. Oftentimes, women experience a confusing mix of these emotions, which can make their post-abortion feelings difficult to identify and process.
Whether you are struggling to understand your own feelings or trying to prepare yourself for the potential emotional abortion consequences, here’s what you need to know about some of the common emotional after-effects of abortion:
It is easy to find information focused on potential negative effects of abortion — but the truth is that relief is the most common emotion women feel after having an abortion.
While making an abortion decision may be stressful, most women put a lot of thought into their choice and feel confident that they made the right one — even if it was difficult at times. For most women, abortion has a positive outcome, and the relief, confidence and empowerment they feel after ending their unplanned pregnancy is stronger than any feelings of post-abortion stress, sadness or doubt they may experience.
While relief is the most common emotional response to abortion, some women also experience mixed or negative feelings about their abortion. Occasionally, a woman may even find herself thinking, “I regret my abortion.”
However, research suggests that truly regretting abortion is rare. One widely-cited study found that 95 percent of women don’t have long-term feelings of regret after abortion, and some reports have gone so far as to call abortion regret a myth.
If you are having thoughts or feelings of regret after an abortion, know that they are likely temporary. It is natural to wonder “what if,” especially immediately following the stress of making an abortion decision and the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy and abortion.
If you are struggling to make peace with your abortion decision, try to remember your reasons for choosing abortion. It was not a choice you made lightly, and even if you temporarily regret abortion or doubt your decision, you can take comfort knowing that you made the best decision you could in your circumstances.
It may also be helpful to talk to a professional post-abortion counselor to help you work through these feelings. You can find more information about abortion counseling and support here.
Even if you know that abortion was the right choice for you, you may find yourself facing confusing feelings of guilt after abortion. There are a number of reasons why a woman might experience some abortion guilt; some women feel guilty because they face feelings of judgment or criticism from others in their lives, while others have personal religious or moral beliefs that cause abortion guilt.
Some women even feel guilty for the sense of relief they feel after an abortion; they may believe that they are supposed to feel regret, sadness or grief following an abortion — and if they don’t, this can lead to feelings of guilt or shame.
Letting go of these feelings can be difficult, but it’s important to be kind and forgive yourself. A professional post-abortion counselor may be able to help you process any feelings of guilt you may be experiencing.
An abortion results in loss, and it is a loss that many women grieve — even if, ultimately, they do not regret their decision.
Dealing with this abortion grief can feel lonely. Because abortion has become so political, many women struggle to give a voice to any feelings of grief or sadness they may experience after an abortion. This is called “disenfranchised grief,” which is grief that is not openly acknowledged, observed or validated by others.
However, despite the stigma, it’s extremely important to address these feelings and to move through the grieving process; unresolved grief can lead to more serious and destructive emotional consequences of abortion, like depression.
After abortion, it is common for women to suppress any negative feelings they might be having and try to resume their lives as normal. But in some cases, ignoring feelings of grief, guilt or regret can lead to a period of post-abortion depression. Due to fluctuating hormones and the difficult or mixed emotions that often accompany an abortion decision, it is possible to experience something like postpartum depression after abortion. Women may be more likely to experience abortion depression if they have a history of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety.
While it is rare for women to be diagnosed with depression after abortion, it is important not to ignore any signs or symptoms you may be experiencing. Signs of depression after abortion may include:
- Intense feelings of grief, sadness or an inability to cope with difficult emotions
- Increase in dangerous, unhealthy or high-risk behaviors
- Inability to function normally at work, school or home
- Isolation or difficulty interacting with others
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty sleeping
- Disturbing dreams or nightmares
- Paranoia or phobias
- Distress around other pregnant women, babies and children
- Problems with controlling anger
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
If you are having thoughts of suicide after abortion, seek help right away. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Some groups refer to post-abortion depression as Post Abortion Syndrome or Post Abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS). While PASS is not officially recognized by the medical community, and its existence is debated, some women find it helpful to give a name to their feelings of depression after abortion.
If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of PASS, depression or other mental health issues following an abortion, it’s important to take your feelings seriously. Contact a counselor right away to get the emotional support you need to heal and move forward.
Even if you experience a period of difficult or confusing emotions, know that it is possible to find hope after abortion — and you will reach a place of acceptance eventually. Most women do not regret their abortion decision, and long-term mental or emotional issues following an abortion are rare — which means that, with time, any negative feelings you may be experiencing now will likely dissipate, and you can continue to live a positive, happy and healthy life.
How to Cope with Abortion
If you are struggling with your decision to terminate a pregnancy, you may be wondering how to “get over” an abortion. It’s important to understand that there’s no straightforward timeline or guidebook for dealing with abortion, and some women may never fully “get over” these difficult feelings — but, with time, they should become less intense and more infrequent.
One of the best things you can do when dealing with abortion is to practice self-care. Coping with abortion is not always easy, and it’s important to be patient with yourself as you work through the healing process. To start, here are some helpful ideas for how to cope with abortion:
- Write and reflect. Some women find it helpful to work their thoughts and feelings out on paper. Consider keeping a journal to help you sort through and make sense of your feelings after abortion.
- Develop a ritual. If you are struggling to come to terms with your abortion decision, you may find comfort and closure in some sort of ceremony or ritual. Light a candle, plant a tree or flower, or establish some other meaningful ritual that’s helpful to you.
- Do what you love. Focus your energy on the things and activities that make you feel good — whether that’s exercise, creative expression or simply spending time with friends and family members.
- Set a new goal. Now is a great time to work toward the goals you have for yourself. Challenge yourself to climb a mountain or train for a marathon. Continue your education, apply for a promotion at work or learn a new skill.
- Give back. After an abortion, some women find new meaning and purpose in caring for others. Volunteer in your community or make a donation to help brighten someone else’s life.
- Take a break. Take some time to unwind, whether that means unplugging from social media, booking a vacation, spending quiet time outside or simply finding time to pray or meditate throughout the day.
- Talk to someone. While it’s important to take care of yourself after an abortion, you do not need to face your post-abortion feelings alone. Confide in a trusted family member or close friend about what you’re going through, and reach out to a professional when you need help.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel after having an abortion, and how to deal with abortion is entirely up to you. Take care of yourself and pay attention to your feelings after abortion — and know that help is always available to you if you need it.