Abortion has long been and remains a source of considerable controversy, particularly in regards to the mental health and psychological effects of the procedure. The value system that favors or condemns abortion is rooted in so many layers, such as the individual’s interpretation of morality, ethics, legality, and science. Some equate abortion to cold blooded murder. To others, abortion needs to be left to the decision of those who undergo the procedure which is dependent on many factors, such as whether they can afford the child, whether it was desired in the first place etc. Then, there are those shades of grey areas concerning abortion: What if the baby is wanted, yet amniocentesis warn of defects that may well cripple the child for his entire life? Or, what if a woman becomes impregnated as a victim of rape? Public opinion throughout the world remains debated, but what is often ignored in the midst of screaming debates are the potential psychological, rather than physiological, effects and mental health ramifications of abortion. Yet, even that argument is controversial for numerous reasons.
When discussing the traumatic psychological effects of abortion, it is important to discern between forced abortion and elective abortions. In the case of forced abortions, women are often forced into unwanted abortions by lovers, relatives, and other influential persons in their lives. Forced abortions are particularly common in developing countries where socioeconomic conditions, lack of legal procedures preceding the abortion, and gender identities all contribute to the lack of say by women concerning their pregnancy. By contrast, elective abortions occur when the decision rests entirely on the woman herself. Context and justification for the abortion plays an important role on how the incident in internalized by and traumatic to the woman. Studies correlate a higher rate of diagnosable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the cases of the traumatic experience of forced abortion. PTSD is a psychological dysfunction in where a person’s coping mechanisms are distorted giving way to feelings of intense fear and helplessness. According to Dr. David C. Reardon of The Elliot Institute – a pro-life organization that researches the psychological effects of abortion – the major symptoms of PTSD are classified into three categories: hyperarousal, intrusion, and constriction.
First, hyperarousal is characterized by a perpetual sense of paranoia. Following the abortion, signs of increased anxiety, aggressive behavior, insomnia, or Pavlovian panic attacks to anything that resembles the traumatic event are all symptoms of hyperarousal. Second, intrusion involves the re-experiencing of the trauma through nightmares or flashbacks. Generally, this form of PTSD includes suffering from shame and guilt for having undergone the abortion procedure. The third category is known as constriction which involves avoidance of stimuli associated with the abortion itself. Behavioral patterns include denial, withdrawal from relationships (especially from those involved with the abortion), avoidance of children, or even the adoption of harmful habits such as drug abuse as a coping mechanism for the trauma. Psychiatrists classify this period as one of emotional paralysis as sufferers are temporarily out of touch with their own feelings. Pro-life studies suggest that these signs of PTSD are always present, regardless of the circumstance the abortion occurred under. They argue that clinical experiments do not reflect the higher rate of PTSD in abortion patients because these people exhibit avoidance behavior and do not wish to share their trauma with researches.
The claim that PTSD can be diagnosed in women who underwent forced and elective abortions has been largely criticized. “Considering elective abortion is one of the most common medical interventions in the world… one would anticipate that long-term post abortion mental health problems would be similarly common, were it a prevalent consequence of the procedure,” read a report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in January 2008. Yet, this study observed that the existence of such abortion-related syndromes had yet to be established empirically. Naturally, common psychological effects of abortions include mourning after the loss of a pregnancy, regardless of its reason. Part of this emotional rollercoaster is due to the hormonal fluctuations that accompany pregnancy. Unquestionably, the psychological effects abortions may have are huge, but they also may project themselves in many forms.
A manifestation of post-abortion syndrome that has been more empirically understood than PTSD involves psychosexual disorders. Considering abortion has everything to do with sexuality, it is unsurprising that among the first changes women make following abortion involves their attitudes or behavior towards sexuality. Many women report suffering from sexual dysfunctions – both for a short period and long term – following an abortion. Problems include increased pain during sexual intercourse, an aversion towards sex altogether, or even an increased libido. What these changes in sexual habits demonstrate is the power of the psychological in determining the behavior of the libido. In a sense, the psychosexual effect the abortion has on females offers a window into how their overall mental health. While all of these symptoms have been recorded in women, they have never been consistent and are seemingly always unique between women in various cultures and circumstances.
[ad#downcont]Abortion has a long history and millions are performed around the world every year. Though the focus has always been (and understandably so) on the impact of aborting the fetus, it is also important to understand the stress and psychological effect it has on the woman who endures it. Abortion remains a most controversial issue because it tests the moral boundaries of a society: under what circumstance life or death become more important. Yet, in the debate over the life and death of the child, the psychological effect between the life and death of the mental health of a woman hangs in the balance.