“What’s that? Post-Abortion Syndrome May Exist…? Nevermind.”

This month, many secular psychologists are having an Emily Litella moment.

Prevailing professional “wisdom” on the link between abortion and subsequent psychological problems is that there is none.   The official position of the American Psychological Association is, “Nothing to see here, folks, let’s all just move along shall we?”

Well, things are not quite as clear cut as the APA might like you to believe.  First, in 2008, a 30 year longitudinal study of 500 women found that post-abortive women had about a 30% higher likelihood of subsequent mental problems than non-abortive women (the “attributable risk” estimate of 1.5-5.5% is a less reliable statistic that attempts to calculate how much abortion, itself, without considering any other factor, contributes to mental health problems.  It is a deceptively small percentage because  so many factors influence mental health that almost all such analyses yield very small numbers.)

Now, the July issue of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences describes a review of all abortion and mental health literature between 1995 and 2011.  Their findings?  Out of 36 studies reviewed, 13 found post-abortive women at higher risk of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.  The review also found  that while short-term anxiety and depression were more common among women who miscarried than women who had abortions, longer term anxiety and depression were much more common among post-abortive women than women who miscarried.  That makes sense considering that factors surrounding each set of circumstances (i.e., in miscarriage, women are encouraged to grieve.  With abortion, women are told they have nothing to grieve.  It takes time for the denial to wear off and the emotional disturbance to be recognized.)

The researchers conclude by saying that more research needs to be done.  That’s true.  It would just be nice if the professional organizations would stop issuing politically motivated statements until all the data is in.

By the way, that incredible silence you hear?  That’s the media rushing to cover this story.



About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    You mean, “things are NOT quite as clear cut as the APA might like you to believe” right?

  • oregon catholic

    I dread these studies that get interpreted to try to point to causation rather than accepting that correlation is usually the best we can do. It’s almost impossible to prove causation when there are so many variable at play. I think abortion causes harm post-abortion, but I also think there are spiritual/mental/emotional/behavior issues that pre-exist abortion that probably ’cause’ abortion as well, and lead to post-abortion problems. The inability to control one’s behavior, make good choices, a tendency toward denial and escape from problems, or simply a pattern of failure to accept personal responsibility for one’s actions are the one’s that stand out for me. All of these traits can lead to poor self-esteem, guilt, and shame in other situations too, not just post-abortion. In other words, I think the problems are often present even before abortion and the abortion simply compounds them.

    • Josmo

      Not to mention socio-economic factors, such as education-level (which likely caused the pregnancy to begin with), certain social and financial pressures, and a lack of personal moral, mental, and spiritual development because of the environments they live in. I would be interested in a study that manages to factor out pre-existing issues like that.

  • Alden Smith

    Thats why these women if they have the abortions or not need to be supported. Groups, classes and therapy

  • flagirl336

    Having been a crisis pregnancy counselor for more than four years, I can say that this syndrome is real.

    Most of the time, a woman goes into an abortion believing the rhetoric that the baby is not really a baby, etc.

    However, during and after the abortion, the mother will experience sensations and see sights that convince her otherwise.

    Depending on the method used, stage of pregnancy, and other circumstances, chances are high that she will see tiny body parts or even an entire baby.

    She will feel the pounding or chopping as the “doctor” destroys the little one inside her. She will hear the whine of the vacuum. She will undoubtedly see and smell the blood.

    For her entire pregnancy, the mother’s body has been doing what it was created to do: nurture a tiny life. Birth brings a sense of accomplishment, a natural shift in hormones, and a new little person to hold and care for. Both touch and nursing release oxytocin, the bonding and joy hormone.

    Abortion, in contrast, leaves only emptiness. The hormone shift after abortion is not natural: it is abrupt. Emotions are in chaos as a result. There is no baby to hold or to suck the breasts. There is only a sense that something beautiful and precious is suddenly over.

    These sights, smells, and feelings will be with the mother for her lifetime. The shock of recognizing too late the great lie she was told only makes a deeper impression.

    Abortion also causes trauma to the woman’s body, including possible injuries severe enough to make her unable to carry another child–ever.

    These factors are never explained in advance. Everything comes as a shock. The mother feels terribly alone in her pain.

    She is supposed to feel happy and liberated about her new freedom. She actually feels miserable. So she stuffs everything down in massive denial, or she tries to numb it.

    God can heal the memories and even the physical damage. Most crisis pregnancy centers have counseling specifically for women (and men) hurt by abortion.

    If you know someone in that kind of need, offer understanding instead of condemnation. Gently suggest that the very best thing she can do to honor that child is to get help for herself so she can help others.