Abortion, often known as pregnancy termination, is the process of ending a pregnancy through the use of drugs or a surgical operation. It is not only a medical procedure but also has a broad range of psychological aspects and mental health consequences.
Defining Abortion In Psychology
Abortion is a medical procedure to end a pregnancy by removing the embryo or fetus from the mother’s womb either with the help of medicines or surgery. Many consider it as a medical procedure and women can experience several physical side effects post-abortion. However, the procedure of terminating a pregnancy can adversely affect a pregnant woman’s mental well-being and lead to numerous behavioral and emotional changes that can last for a few months to even a year. The emotional and psychological side effects of pregnancy termination don’t depend on whether it is planned or not. According to a 2018 research paper 1, “It is clear that some women do experience sadness, grief, and feelings of loss following termination of a pregnancy, and some experience clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety.” However, the study further explained that the severity largely depends on the situation of the individual and some women are at greater risk of negative psychological outcomes following one or more surgical procedures of terminating the pregnancy.
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There may be various reasons for not wanting to continue a pregnancy, such as unwanted pregnancy, financial issues, social and relationship pressures, physical or mental health problems in the parent or the unborn child. Researchers 2 explain that a woman experiences a variety of difficult challenges when she conceives unexpectedly. The impact of a child on a woman’s present life circumstances, the interest and capability of her partner to be a parent, her own ability and desire to be a parent, and their social & occupational status are some of the critical factors that can hugely contribute to the psychological problems a woman may experience after abortion.
Understanding Abortion And Mental Health
There is a lot of ongoing debate regarding the association between abortion and mental health. Studies 3 have shown that It can have mental and emotional effects not only on women but also on men. Though it is more likely to affect women, it can have a serious impact on the male partner and their other children as well in certain instances.
The mental health effects of abortion also depend on how much support the woman gets at home, at work, or in her community. The loss of pregnancy comes with a lot of negative emotional effects and if the feelings are persistent and severe, they can be the underlying sign of some mental health disorders. Each woman experiences and reacts to their termination of pregnancy differently. However, a 2009 study 4 stated, “It is important that women’s varied experiences of abortion be recognized, validated, and understood.”
The following are some of the common negative feelings that most women experience post-abortion:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Lack of self-confidence or self-esteem
- Nightmares and sleeping difficulties
- Relationship issues
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Along with the above feelings, some people may experience a sense of loss, chronic stress, and depression. Such severe mental health conditions may often require medical interventions.
Psychological Consequences Of Abortion
There are a lot of assumptions and myths around what type of emotional and mental health effects a woman will have after the termination of pregnancy. Based on people’s respective situations, an abortion can have a broad range of different mental health consequences. The following are some of the significant psychological consequences of the termination of pregnancy:
1. Mental health disorders
Unwanted pregnancy is associated with a greater risk of mental health struggles in women. According to a 2008 research paper 5, abortion can lead to the development of various symptoms of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, stress, and a sense of loneliness.
2. Mental health effects in men
It is often believed that abortion-related emotional effects are only prevalent among women, but it is not always the case. In certain instances, men can even experience the loss of fatherhood followed by mental health issues, such as chronic stress, depression, anxiety, and isolation.
3. Negative behavioral changes
At some rates, women 6 experience mild to extreme negative behavioral changes along with changes in their mental health conditions after abortion. They can experience extreme mood swings and overwhelming emotions, such as anger and irritability.
4. Lower self-esteem
Studies 7 have shown that women who denied having an abortion, but had to terminate their pregnancy due to certain situations are more likely to experience lower life satisfaction and self-confidence, and higher levels of anxiety.
Read More About Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Here
Coping With The Mental Health Effects Of Abortion
Regardless of the reasons, a loss of pregnancy is always a distressing feeling for a woman. If one is experiencing extreme emotional or mental distress before or after an abortion procedure, she should consult with a psychologist or a psychotherapist who can help them overcome their post-abortion psychological issues. Here are some of the beneficial ways through which one can effectively deal with their emotional problem after the termination of their pregnancy:
- Communicating openly is extremely important when you are experiencing any kind of mental health issue. Talk to a family member, friend, or anyone whom you can trust about the struggle you are going through. It will help you to positively navigate your issues.
- After an abortion, one can feel detachment or withdrawal even from their close ones. Try to stay connected with people who can offer you support without judging you.
- Never isolate yourself when you are going through this kind of emotional distress. Isolation can increase one’s negative feelings and cause them more distress.
- Don’t allow anyone to pressurize you either to have an abortion or not. One may feel pressure from family, relatives, friends, or partners. But it is important to remember that a termination of pregnancy is ultimately a choice of the mother.
Dealing With Abortion
Whether intended or not, an abortion always comes with numerous negative feelings and emotions mostly for women. If someone feels distressed, anxious, depressed, or emotionally overwhelmed before or after an abortion, it is safe to consult with a psychiatrist first. Sharing your problems with your loved ones can benefit a person in a lot of ways. If you are confused about having an abortion, a mental health professional can help you develop coping strategies and better manage your thoughts and emotions.
Abortion At A Glance
- Abortion has a broad range of psychological aspects and mental health consequences.
- Some women experience sadness, grief, and feelings of loss following the termination of a pregnancy.
- It can strongly affect a woman’s mental health but can adversely impact men as well as they can also experience chronic stress, depression, anxiety, and isolation.
- Women can experience extreme mood swings and overwhelming emotions after an abortion, such as anger and irritability.
- Termination of pregnancy can also lead to lower life satisfaction and self-esteem among women.
- Reardon D. C. (2018). The abortion and mental health controversy: A comprehensive literature review of common ground agreements, disagreements, actionable recommendations, and research opportunities. SAGE open medicine, 6, 2050312118807624. https://doi.org/10.1177/2050312118807624
- Dresner, N., & Kurzman, A. R. (2009). Psychological aspects of abortion. The Global Library of Women’s Medicine. https://doi.org/10.3843/glowm.10417
- Benvenuti P, Borri P, Buzzoni P, Clerici L, Rossi Monti M. L’aborto al maschile. Manifestazioni psicologiche e psico-patologiche in occasione della mancata paternità [Abortion and the man. Psychological and psychopathological manifestations in the face of lost fatherhood]. Riv Patol Nerv Ment. 1983 Nov-Dec;104(6):255-68. Italian. PMID: 6543986.
- Major, B., Appelbaum, M., Beckman, L., Dutton, M. A., Russo, N. F., & West, C. (2009). Abortion and mental health: Evaluating the evidence. The American psychologist, 64(9), 863–890. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0017497
- Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Boden JM. Abortion and mental health disorders: evidence from a 30-year longitudinal study. Br J Psychiatry. 2008 Dec;193(6):444-51. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.108.056499. PMID: 19043144.
- Henshaw R, Naji S, Russell I, Templeton A. Psychological responses following medical abortion (using mifepristone and gemeprost) and surgical vacuum aspiration. A patient-centered, partially randomised prospective study. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1994 Nov;73(10):812-8. doi: 10.3109/00016349409072511. PMID: 7817735.
- Biggs, M. A., Upadhyay, U. D., Steinberg, J. R., & Foster, D. G. (2014). Does abortion reduce self-esteem and life satisfaction?. Quality of life research : an international journal of quality of life aspects of treatment, care and rehabilitation, 23(9), 2505–2513. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-014-0687-7