Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Psychological problems

The consensus of all authoritative psychiatric and medical opinion is that, for the large majority of women, the effects on psychological health of having an abortion are neither major nor long-lasting. 

Most women report feeling a sense of relief. They suggest that the most stressful thing is coming to the decision to terminate, particularly when the circumstances  are difficult. Some women may experience feelings of sadness and loss; this is not  a mental illness, it is just a normal reaction to what can be a negative event.

Anti-choice organisations claim that abortion causes women to suffer severe psychological effects which they call “Post-Abortion Syndrome” (PAS). They liken  PAS to post traumatic stress disorder, a real syndrome sometimes experienced by people who have suffered a terrible trauma. However, research in the UK and the USA shows that there is no evidence of such a mental illness. To describe the possible emotional problems that women may experience after an abortion in  this way is a distortion of the facts.

Very few women suffer prolonged emotional distress following an abortion. However, distress may be triggered if the circumstances surrounding the abortion were especially stressful, e.g. if it had been illegal and was frightening/degrading;  if secrecy had been essential due to family/cultural/religious disapproval; if the woman had been unsure about her decision to have an abortion or if she had wanted to continue the pregnancy, but, for medical reasons, had had to have  an abortion.

Only a small minority of women experience any long term, adverse psychological after-effects following an abortion. …  [Risk factors are ambivalence before the abortion, lack of  a supportive partner, a psychiatric history or membership of  a cultural group that considers abortion wrong.] …    Early distress, although common, is usually a continuation  of symptoms present before abortion.