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           The Emotional Effects of Induced Abortion

Abortion and Contraception

  • Abortion is not seen by women who elect it as a preferred, or desired, form of contraception (Henshaw & Silverman, 1988).
  • Studies have indicated that while 70 percent of women used no form of birth control before their first abortion, only 9 percent failed to use a contraceptive method after their abortion (Henshaw & Van Vort, 1990).
  • Baltimore teenagers who chose an abortion were less likely to become pregnant in the following two years than those who had carried their pregnancies to term or who had not been pregnant. They were also slightly more likely to use contraception (Zabin et al., 1989).
Effect of Abortion on Sexual and Other Relationships
One study shows that eight weeks after abortion
  • 70 percent of the subjects were continuing in the pre-abortion relationship; 5 percent had established new relationships; and 20 percent had no sex partner
  • 45 percent described their feelings toward their partners as unchanged; 39 percent felt closer to their partners; and 16 percent felt less close to their partners or described varying feelings
  • 46 percent felt the quality of the relationship was unchanged; 16 percent felt the relationship had improved; and 10 percent felt the relationship had deteriorated
  • 98 percent of partnered women had resumed sexual intercourse
    (Ashton, 1980)
The So-Called "Post-Abortion Syndrome"
A small number of studies, based primarily on anecdotal evidence, claim to document the incidence of "post-abortion syndrome" (PAS). Symptoms of this supposed condition include feelings of grief, depression, anger, guilt, and discomfort with small children and pregnant women. Alleged behavioral manifestations include frequent crying, flashbacks, sexual inhibition, and alcohol abuse (Speckhard, 1985).
Although only a small minority of women report severe negative emotional effects post-abortion, the idea that abortion has severe negative effects continues to be widespread by abortion opponents (Boyle, 1997; Russo & Denious, 2001). The fact is that anti-abortion groups have invented this condition to further their cause. The APA does not recognize "post-abortion syndrome" (1994), and all of the studies that purport to prove PAS contain methodological flaws that render their conclusions nongeneralizable beyond their subjects. The most egregious flaw common to all of these studies is that only women who already self-identified as having problems with abortion were recruited for them. For example:
  • In her doctoral dissertation, "The Psycho-Social Aspects of Stress Following Abortion," Anne Catherine Speckhard chronicled how "abortion functions as a stressor" (Speckhard, 1985). However, she drew her conclusions from a subject pool of 30 women who "had high-stress abortion experiences" (Speckhard, 1985). As a result, in unpublished correspondence, her doctoral advisor clarified that Speckhard's "findings apply only to the 30 women who volunteered to participate in her study and to absolutely no one else" (Boss, 1986). In fact, there is little evidence to support the notion that abortion will lead to severe psychological sequelae among the general population of women. The American Psychological Association assembled an expert panel to review the evidence of psychological risks of abortion. This panel concluded "the weight of the evidence from scientific studies indicates that legal abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in the first trimester does not pose a psychological hazard for most women (Beckman, 1998).
  • In his survey of women who had abortions, David Reardon found that 94 percent of his respondents experienced negative psychological effects (Reardon, 1987). However, he used a biased subject pool, drawing only from members of an anti-choice group called Women Exploited by Abortion (WEBA).
  • To demonstrate that adolescents suffer greater psychological consequences after abortion than adults, Wanda Franz and David Reardon examine data from "a survey of organizations [such as WEBA] serving as support groups for women who have had negative reactions to abortion" (Franz & Reardon, 1992). They conclude by making generalizations about the effects of abortion on all adolescents, even though they derive their data from a non-representative, highly biased subject pool. In fact, a recent study of young women found that there is no evidence that abortion poses a threat to adolescents psychological well-being (Pope, 2001).
  • In an unpublished but widely circulated paper, Terry Selby limits her discussion of "post-abortion trauma" to "a population of women who have presented themselves in a general mental health practice with a variety of presenting psychological and psycho-social issues" (Selby, 1984).
  • In 1987, a white paper was presented to former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop describing the "problem" of PAS. In the paper, the writers admit, "the psychological risks of abortion are based mainly upon studies which have used small, uncontrolled and non-representative samples" and "cannot be predictive of national estimates" (Rue et al., 1987).
In July 1987, anti-choice President Ronald Reagan directed Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, also anti-choice; to produce a report on the health effects of induced abortion. Although the resulting draft report acknowledges that induced abortion is medically safe, it claims that there is insufficient evidence to determine the psychological effects of abortion (Koop, 1987). This conclusion overlooks an enormous body of evidence — more than 250 scientific studies — disproving the existence of PAS (Tyrer & Grimes, 1989). Furthermore, in closed meetings in 1988, Koop told representatives from several anti-abortion organizations that the risk of significant emotional problems following abortion was "minuscule" from a public health perspective (House Committee on Government Operations, 1989). Koop initially did not release his study, apparently because it did not support the anti-abortion position (Arthur, 1997). The report was finally made public on March 16, 1989.
Overall Conclusions by Health Experts
In 1989, a panel of experts assembled by the American Psychological Association concluded unanimously that legal abortion "does not create psychological hazards for most women undergoing the procedure." The panel noted that, since approximately 21 percent of all U.S. women have had an abortion, if severe emotional reactions were common there would be an epidemic of women seeking psychological treatment. There is no evidence of such an epidemic (Adler, 1989). Since 1989, there has been no significant change in this point of view.

Cited References
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Lead Author — Jon Knowles
Revised By  — Deborah Golub, MPH
Published: 01.18.07 | Updated: 01.18.07
Published by the Katharine Dexter McCormick Library
©2001 Planned Parenthood® Federation of America, Inc.
All rights reserved.

                                                                     Planned Parenthood


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