Abortion

Abortion site

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Abortion, also known as termination of pregnancy, refers to the end of pregnancy either by consumption of medicines or surgery. It is a medical procedure that involves a broad range of psychological aspects and mental health consequences.

The Psychological Effects Of Abortion

Abortion is a medical procedure to end a pregnancy by the removal of the embryo or fetus from the mother’s womb—either with the help of medicines or surgery. 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 lasting for a few months to even a year. The psychological side effects of pregnancy termination don’t depend on whether it is planned or not. 

According to a 2018 research paper 1, some women do experience sadness, grief, and feelings of loss following termination of a pregnancy, and some experience clinically significant disorders. However, the study further explained that the severity depends on individual differences.

Can abortion cause depression?

Researchers 2 explain that a woman experiences a variety of difficult challenges when she conceives unexpectedly. She may develop depression after abortion or the symptoms of post-abortion stress syndrome.

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

Factors Related To The Psychological Effects Of Abortion

Several critical factors significantly contribute to the psychological problems a woman may experience after an abortion, such as:

  • 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
  • Their social and occupational status

Whether abortion is a positive or a negative psychological experience depends on several factors, including:

1. The doctor-patient relationship

If the doctor being consulted has ambivalent feelings towards the abortion or holds certain stigmas, it might make the process more difficult.

2. Involvement of parents

The involvement and reactions of the partner and parents also make a lot of difference in how a woman feels about abortion.

3. Societal beliefs

It is a very important factor contributing to mental issues surrounding abortion—in certain places, abortion is taboo, and engaging in it can lead to social exclusion and punishment. In such situations, it can take a dangerous toll on the individual.

How Abortion Impacts Mental Health

Myths about abortion.
Abortion

A lot of ongoing debate concerns the association between abortion and mental health. Abortion is an extremely tabooed and closeted topic and there are many myths about abortion and women’s mental health.

Studies 3 have shown that termination of pregnancy can have mental and emotional effects not only on women but also on their partners and their existing children.

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 a more severe mental health disorder.

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.”

Listed below are some of the common negative feelings that most women experience post-abortion:

  • Sadness
  • Grief
  • Shame
  • Regret
  • Abortion stress
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Lack of self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Nightmares and insomnia
  • Relationship issues

Along with the above feelings, some people may also experience a sense of loss, chronic stress, and depression. Such severe mental health conditions require medical interventions.

Read More About Grief Here

Consequences Of Abortion Stress

Abortion, done voluntarily or involuntarily, can be a complex life-altering psychological event. For women who underwent spontaneous abortions, as pointed out by a 2021 study 5, it brings relief from stress and resolves the crisis of unwanted pregnancy.

In induced abortion, it involves extremely stressful and sensitive situations and, in most cases, women experience strong negative feelings about grief and loss. Some women experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. This is called “post abortion stress syndrome”.

There are several myths about the emotional and mental health effects a termination of pregnancy has on women. Based on subjective perspectives, it can have a broad range of mental health consequences. Listed below are some of the negative psychological consequences of the termination of pregnancy:

1. Psychological disorders

Unwanted pregnancy is associated with a greater risk of mental health struggles in women. According to a 2008 study 6, abortion can lead to various symptoms of mental health disorders—including depression, anxiety, stress, and a sense of loneliness.

Read More About Stress Here

2. Mental health effects in men

It is popularly 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.

Read More About Depression Here

3. Negative behavioral changes

In some cases, women 7 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.

Read More About Anger Here

4. Low self-esteem

Studies 8 showed that women who did not want an abortion but had to terminate their pregnancy due to certain situations are more likely to experience lower life satisfaction, low self-confidence, and higher levels of anxiety.

Read More About Self-Esteem Here

How To Recover From An Abortion Mentally?

Tips to deal with post-abortion stress.
Abortion

Regardless of the reasons, the loss of a pregnancy can be distressing for a woman. If one is experiencing extreme emotional or mental distress before or after the procedure of terminating a pregnancy, she should consult with a psychologist or a psychotherapist who can help her overcome the 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 pregnancy:

  1. Talk to a family member, friend, or whom you can trust about the struggle you are going through. It will help you positively navigate your issues.
  2. Try to stay connected with people who can offer you support without judging you.
  3. Avoid social isolation during emotional distress. It’ll amplify your negative feelings and cause you more distress.
  4. Remember that abortion is ultimately the personal choice of the mother, there is no shame.
  5. In case you feel deep guilt or a high level of stress, then go for mental healthcare treatment.

When An Abortion Brings More Good Than Harm

Abortions are not necessarily always harbingers of negative emotions and psychological disorders. Sometimes they may come as a positive change.

Research 9 suggests that while some women experience loss and regret among other psychological problems, a lot of women who undergo voluntary first trimester abortions are satisfied with their experience and benefit from it. In fact, it was found that the rates of psychological dysfunction in a majority of women are no more than the regular population.

In some situations, abortions can have relatively fewer negative consequences or even positive psychological effects on the people involved:

  • If the pregnancy posed a certain danger to the woman (be it medical or financial in nature), abortions provide a sense of relief from stress.
  • The effect of an abortion on a woman also depends on her personal coping skills. Women who are more resilient in nature tend to experience fewer negative outcomes.
  • If the woman undergoing abortion receives strong ongoing support from her family, partner, and doctor—the process of abortion can be relatively less anxiety-provoking. 10

How Does Being Denied An Abortion Harm Mental Health?

Abortions are a controversial issue and are mostly prohibited by religions and societies at large. In some countries like the US, Egypt, Malta, and Tonga, abortion is declared illegal 11. Stripping abortion rights means taking away a human right and fuelling the negative consequences of unwanted pregnancies, like poverty, familial dysfunction, parental abandonment, etc.

Denying abortion also affects women’s social reputation, especially for unmarried women or those whose pregnancies are caused by sexual assault (like rape victims). In fact, studies show that denying women access to abortion negatively affects them—physically and mentally. In most cases 12, women who were denied abortion but had to go on having children experienced:

  • Higher levels of anxiety
  • Lower life satisfaction
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Parental rage
  • Depression
  • Substance use disorders
  • Mood disorders, etc.

Read More About Mood Disorders Here

Takeaway

Whether intended or not, an abortion often comes with numerous negative feelings and emotions (mostly) for women. If someone feels distressed, anxious, depressed, or emotionally overwhelmed before or after the termination of pregnancy, it is safe to consult with a psychiatrist or psychologist first.

Sharing one’s problems with 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

  1. Abortion is the termination of pregnancy by consumption of medicines or surgery.
  2. It comes with several physical and mental consequences.
  3. The kind of effect abortion has on a person depends on several societal and environmental factors.
  4. Some women experience sadness, grief, and feelings of loss following the termination of a pregnancy.
  5. Some of the negative psychological effects of abortion on women include mental disorders, low self-esteem, behavioral changes, and lower life satisfaction.
  6. Abortion can also be a psychologically positive experience, bringing relief from unwanted pregnancies.
  7. For better guidance, one must consult a psychiatrist or a psychologist on experiencing negative emotions related to abortions.
👇 References:
  1. 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 []
  2. Dresner, N., & Kurzman, A. R. (2009). Psychological aspects of abortion. The Global Library of Women’s Medicine. https://doi.org/10.3843/glowm.10417 []
  3. 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. []
  4. Major, B., Appelbaum, M., Beckman, L., Dutton, M. A., Russo, N. F., & West, C. (2009). Abortion and mental health: Evaluating the evidence. The American psychologist64(9), 863–890. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0017497 []
  5. Lyon, R., & Botha, K. (2021). The experience of and coping with an induced abortion: A rapid review. Health SA = SA Gesondheid, 26, 1543. https://doi.org/10.4102/hsag.v26i0.1543 []
  6. Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., & Boden, J. M. (2008). Abortion and mental health disorders: evidence from a 30-year longitudinal study. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science193(6), 444–451. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.108.056499 []
  7. 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. []
  8. 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 []
  9. Adler N. E. (2000). Abortion and the null hypothesis. Archives of general psychiatry57(8), 785–786. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.57.8.785 []
  10. Adler, N. E. (1979). Abortion: A Social-Psychological Perspective. Journal of Social Issues, 35(1), 100–119. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1979.tb00791.x []
  11. Berer M. (2017). Abortion Law and Policy Around the World: In Search of Decriminalization. Health and human rights, 19(1), 13–27. []
  12. Oberman M. (2022). What will and won’t happen when abortion is banned. Journal of law and the biosciences, 9(1), lsac011. https://doi.org/10.1093/jlb/lsac011 []
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