No matter your philosophical, religious, or political views on abortion, the fact of the matter is, the actual experience can affect women not only on a personal level but can potentially have psychological repercussions.
PASS can affect any woman who experiences trauma from abortion.
Women’s reasons for having an abortion are always highly personal, but it’s important to remember that some women might choose to have an abortion after experiencing rape at the hands of a stranger or someone they know. Conversely, at times women may feel compelled not to follow through with a pregnancy
under pressure from a husband, boyfriend, or family member. In any case, it is usually thought of as a solution to stressful circumstances.
Post Abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS) is the name that has been given to the psychological aftereffects of abortion, based on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is important to note that this is not a term that has been accepted by the American Psychiatric Association or the American Psychological Association. In fact, pro-choice advocates accuse their counterparts of making up PASS in order to further their political agendas.
Nevertheless, any event that causes trauma can indeed result in PTSD, and abortion is no exception. A woman can be of sound and solid mind when she makes a choice to terminate a pregnancy, but it is never an easy decision. Even when it is the right decision, there is sometimes a level of conflict that needs to be addressed so that the woman can be at peace with her choice. Believing that PASS exists does not mean that one does not believe in a woman’s right to choose; it simply means that one believes in supportive and constructive counseling around the trauma symptoms.
Symptoms of PASS may include any of the following:
- Guilt: Experiencing guilt does not imply that you made a mistake or “violated your own moral code,” as some pro-lifers would imply. However, feelings around having an abortion may be complex and have to take into account fear of what others might think.
- Anxiety: General anxiety is a common symptom of PTSD—in the case of PASS, there might be a particular anxiety over fertility issues and the ability to get pregnant again.
- Numbness, Depression: Again, common symptoms of PTSD.
- Flashbacks: Abortion is surgery, and in most cases, it’s surgery that happens while the patient is fully conscious. This can be a distressing experience.
- Suicidal thoughts: In extreme cases, the PTSD that results from a controversial abortion could lead to suicidal thoughts or tendencies and would require immediate treatment. It’s important to note that this is not a common or expected symptom of PASS, but as with any form of PTSD, it is possible.
While abortion can induce post-traumatic stress in some, others will suffer no repercussions at all. In fact, studies have shown that women may feel relieved after experiencing an abortion. However, women who are okay with having an abortion are more likely to talk about their experience than women who are ashamed and regretful and have a better chance of working through this process faster than other women. Nevertheless, even those who argue that PASS does not exist will acknowledge that having an abortion may induce normal feelings of sadness, grief, or regret. And women with religious backgrounds can have a hard time choosing to abort. But admitting that abortion is a difficult choice does not equate to admitting that it is “wrong.”
Feelings are complex, and sometimes a woman will need to seek out counseling to help her sort through her own emotions and reactions as well as any perceived or actual stigma she may be experiencing. Post-abortion syndrome exists and could be overcome, even if the women believe that they are not allowed to be happy again. A compassionate, unbiased, and appropriate counselor can help a woman who has undergone an abortion come to terms with her decision and find peace again—without a political agenda.
Ms Magazine, “Abortion Under Attack,” by Cynthia L. Cooper
© Susanne Babbel Ph.D. MFT