Post abortion stress - the psychological stress some women suffer after abortion

Post abortion stress 

The psychological stress some women suffer after abortion

By Julia Acott - CareConfidential

What is Post abortion stress?

While we would be the first to agree that not all abortions cause obvious distress to all women, nevertheless there are a substantial number who do struggle afterwards. Research has shown that up to fifty per cent of post-abortive women may need antidepressants at some stage in their lives, which they often relate back to problems following the abortion. 

Abortion can affect women and some men in the following areas: physically, emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally and spiritually. Post-abortion stress is now recognised as a medical condition.

The Facts

“A new study entitled Late-Term Elective Abortion and Susceptibility to Post-traumatic Stress Symptoms has been published in the Journal of Pregnancy by Dr Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University in the US. This is the first ever study to detail the experiences of women having early abortions (up to 12 weeks) compared to those having late abortions (13 weeks onwards). 52% of the early abortion group and 67% of the late abortion group met the American Psychological Association’s criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

External pressure

The results show breakdowns of whether partners desired the pregnancy, and if there was pressure to abort from people other than partners. In both sets of data, women faced high levels of external pressure, but in later pregnancy they faced particularly high pressure (47.8% compared to 30.5%).

Sadly, nearly 40% of women in the survey said they wanted the baby and fewer than 14% said they received adequate pre-abortion counselling or information on alternatives or the physical and emotional risks. 

The cost to women

Although these read as ‘just figures’, each of these statistics represents a woman who has suffered a terrible injury as a mother. The right of women to be protected during their pregnancy is being compromised in the name of choice.

Rebecca Ng from the ProLife Alliance comments that when women are at their most vulnerable and should be supported, it is terrible that so many are pressured in this way. It is small wonder that they suffer long-term psychological problems. The ProLife Alliance joins the authors of the study in calling for more counselling and support for women considering abortion at any stage.

Coping after an abortion

Many women initially feel relieved after an abortion. Some feel sadness about the abortion, but over time cope with it in a way that’s acceptable to them.

However, there are some who do not cope well and who experience various symptoms, which are sometimes called post-abortion stress.

Symptoms of post abortion stress (PAS)

Symptoms can include the following:

  • emotions such as guilt, grief, sense of loss and anger
  • feeling the need to ‘replace’ the pregnancy
  • a feeling of distance from existing children
  • inability to maintain normal routine
  • depressed feelings, which are stronger than ‘a little sadness’
  • sleeping problems
  • flashbacks
  • tearfulness
  • disturbing dreams or  nightmares
  • difficulty being near babies or pregnant women

In severe cases a woman can become suicidal, self- harming, indulge in risk- taking behaviours, become dependent on drugs or alcohol,

  • suffer anxiety or  panic attacks.

Onset of symptoms

These symptoms can occur at any stage after an abortion and are sometimes triggered by another loss later on.

Some women are more susceptible to these symptoms, particularly if there was uncertainty or ambivalence surrounding the decision. 

Other factors

Other factors that can influence PAS include:

• whether the woman was comfortable with the idea of abortion

• strong motherly feelings or maternal instinct

• previous depression or mental ill health.

• feeling she had no choice because circumstances   were overwhelming.

• having an abortion after a disability had been diagnosed in a wanted pregnancy

• feeling pressurised by someone close.

If you are experiencing any of these please do see your GP. 

Other help

Other help is available - The Journey, a therapeutic programme developed by CareConfidential, enables women to work towards recovery from a troubled abortion experience. This counselling is open to women who are experiencing distress following abortion, whether immediately after or many years later. 

If you have had an abortion and need to discuss your feelings with someone please contact CareConfidential for free and in confidence on 0800 028 2228 or visit

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