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Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS)

Conflicting statements by various agencies

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Overview:

Although there have been hundreds of studies into Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS), they have arrived at conflicting conclusions. Most, including those frequently used to support court cases and potential legislation, are deeply flawed. Their data is unreliable and contradictory. As a result, various groups are able to readily find studies whose conclusions match their political or religious views.

As is the case with so many religious/moral social conflicts (like equal rights for sexual minorities, access to abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) there is a massive chasm between:

bulletGroups that are strongly pro-choice. They may be biased towards downscaling the incidence of PAS. They may minimize the seriousness of PAS to those women who experience it.

bulletOther groups are strongly pro-life. They may be biased towards the belief that PAS affects millions of women, and is extremely serious.

The truth will never be known until valid studies into PAS are conducted in a way that both of the above solitudes can accept the data.

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A pro-choice position by Planned Parenthood:

They have a question and answer section on their home page about abortion. 1 Question 9 deals with PAS:

Question:

My friend and I were arguing about abortion, and she said she heard that millions of women who have had abortions suffer from something called "post-abortion syndrome," which she says is just like post-traumatic stress syndrome. Is that true?

Answer:

No, it's not true. Post-traumatic stress disorder is recognized as a legitimate psychological diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association. So-called "post-abortion syndrome" is not.

In fact, severe emotional disturbance after childbirth, sometimes referred to as postpartum psychosis, occurs somewhat more frequently than severe emotional disturbance after abortion. Interestingly, research has shown that rates of post-partum psychosis decrease in societies that legalize abortion.

Studies suggest that while severe emotional disturbance following abortion is very rare, it is more likely for women who have

bulletDelays in getting abortion.
bulletMedical or genetic reasons to abort a wanted pregnancy.
bulletSevere pre-existing or concurrent psychiatric illness.
bulletConflict over abortion.

That's why women get to carefully review their options before having an abortion.

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, anti-choice organizations continue to spread the false idea that it is common for abortion to have severe, emotionally negative effects. The fact is that anti-abortion groups have invented this so-called post-abortion syndrome to further their efforts to make abortion illegal and unsafe. The anti-choice studies that claim to prove its existence are very flawed. For example, the authors of the studies only interview women who claim to have emotional problems after abortion. They do not interview women who feel relief, which is the most common emotional response of women who have an abortion in the first-trimester -- nearly 90 percent of all abortions happen during the first trimester of pregnancy.

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A pro-life position by various agencies and websites:

The vast majority of pro-life groups emphasize that millions of women experience PAS.

bullet"All About Life Challenges" is sponsored by AllAboutGOD.com in Colorado Springs, CO. 2 An anonymous author writes:

bullet"While the medical community may argue as to the validity of it, as a former Pro-choice believer I can assure you it is real. After the initial tears of despair from the emotional loss and the physical pain are gone, the decision to end a life haunts you. Was it a boy? Was it a girl? How old would he or she be today? If only… Question after question, and reminder after reminder, bring you deeper into despair."
 
bullet"Post-abortion Syndrome victims often deny having abortions due to the guilt and depression associated with it. This makes documentation of it, also known as Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome, very difficult."

bullet"Millions of women have had abortions only to discover an emotional dilemma that won't go away. Post-abortion Syndrome can affect men as well as women. That's right -- men too can experience the symptoms of it years after the abortion."

bullet"Post-abortion Syndrome may require a long period of recovery. Thoughts may return and you may doubt God's forgiveness; however, be assured God keeps His word. Make time to get to know God and His Son, Jesus."

bullet"Knowing the Creator of the universe forgives us when we ask, helps us to forgive ourselves. Though you may still feel sad at times for the loss of your child, you can be sure that you will see them again!"

bullet"Rama International" offers "... the hope of healing to abortion's wounded." 3 Their article on PAS states:

bullet"Post-Abortion Syndrome is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The process of making an abortion choice, experiencing the procedure and living with the grief, pain and regret is certainly, at it's very core, traumatic. As with any trauma, individuals often try to "forget" the ordeal and deny or ignore any pain that may result. Many simply don't relate their distress to the abortion experience. At some point, however, memories resurface and the truth of this loss can no longer be denied. During these moments, the pain of post-abortion syndrome reveals itself in the hearts of millions of lives."
bulletIn their book, "Help for the Post-Abortive Woman" (now entitled "A Solitary Sorrow"), Dr. Paul and Teri Reisser list 14 "...symptoms that describe post-abortion syndrome"
bullet"If you can identify with more than two of these symptoms, it could be that you are experiencing post-abortion syndrome."
  1. Guilt
  2. Anxiety
  3. Psychological 'numbing'
  4. Depression and thoughts of suicide
  5. Anniversary syndrome: an increase of symptoms about the time of anniversary of the abortion and/or the due date.
  6. Re-experiencing the abortion via flashbacks.
  7. Desire to conceive against as soon as possible.
  8. Anxiety over whether they are still fertile & capable of a successful pregnancy.
  9. Inability to bond with present and/or future children.
  10. Survival guilt
  11. Eating disorders.
  12. Alcohol or drug abuse.
  13. Self-punishment or self-degrading behaviors.
  14. Brief psychotic episode lasting up to two weeks.

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A pro-voice position by Exhale:

Exhale created the first post-abortion talkline in 2002 that is neither politically affiliated nor religiously-based. It is designed to support women who have had an abortion, and their friends and family. It is a safe, confidential, anonymous and non-judgmental phone line staffed by trained peer counselors. In their first seven years of operation, they received over 18,000 calls.

They acknowledge that past studies were largely politically based. Some studies did appear to show that abortion negatively impacted women's emotional health, but their conclusions are unreliable because of severe methodological flaws. Two decades of reviews -- from the 1989 study by the Surgeon General under President Reagan to a 2008 study by the American Psychological Association, and a 2009 study published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry have shown that abortion, by itself, rarely causes severe negative mental health outcomes.

In a hearing before the National Institutes of Health, Aspen Baker -- co-founder of Exhale -- said:

"Today, more than ever, there is a great need for sound, thorough research into women’s emotional well-being after an abortion: The abortion procedure is so common, the families and communities impacted are so diverse, the debate around abortion is so loud, and the overwhelming stigma ... is so harmful that it is time for the National Institutes of Health to proactively address the emotional needs of women who have abortions, by using its support and resources to undertake and share sound, thorough research into women’s real experiences. ... We need to provide women and men with the kind of helpful, well-researched information that supports their well-being after an abortion. We need sound, detailed research that addresses the broad range of experiences and feelings people have around abortion, immediately afterward and far into the future. We need research that reflects the real experiences of people like the women and men who call Exhale to share their stories, receive emotional support, and achieve emotional well-being." 4

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A fundamentalist/evangelical Christian position:

AllAboutLifeChallenges.org takes the position that PAS is real and very common. They believe that many researchers are unwilling to study the syndrome because they "are terrified of political backlash" -- presumably from pro-choice groups.

They state that:

"The symptoms range from mild depression to suicidal thoughts and can also be linked to other emotional behaviors such as Eating Disorders, Drug or Alcohol Abuse, and Self Punishment. Millions of women have had abortions only to discover an emotional dilemma that won't go away. Post-abortion Syndrome can affect men as well as women. That's right -- men too can experience the symptoms of it [for] years after the abortion." 5

Since the number of abortions in the U.S. are on the order of one million per year, in order for "millions of women" to have suffered or be suffering from PAS, it would have to be a very common phenomenon following abortions. This conflicts with the peer-reviewed studies described elsewhere on this site which have found no detectable level of PAS.

Their articles suggest to a woman suffering from PAS that she start by restoring their relationship with God. By asking God for forgiveness, they believe that Jesus will heal anyone suffering from PAS. They write:

"Post abortion stress syndrome may vary from woman to woman, but God is absolute! He has never and will never change! The medical community may shy away from studying the issue, but God has not. He will apply His grace to everyone who searches for it. Jesus wasn't exaggerating or using metaphor when He said, 'Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you' (Matthew 7:7). 6

To our knowledge, there has never been a study of the effectiveness of asking God for forgiveness in alleviating emotional problems following an abortion.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Abortion Q&A," Question & answer 9,  Planned Parenthood, at:  http://www.plannedparenthood.org/
  2. Anon, "Post Abortion Syndrome  - A Survivor's Story of Hope," All About Life Challenges, undated, at: http://www.allaboutlifechallenges.org/
  3. "Post Abortion Stress Syndrome," Ramah International, undated, at: http://ramahinternational.org/
  4. Aspenbaker, "The Science of Support: Why We Need Research that Promotes Well-Being After an Abortion." 2009-MAY-22, at: http://aspenbaker.wordpress.com/
  5. "Post-abortion Syndrome - The Guilt & Depression," AllAboutLifeChallenges.org, undated, at: http://www.allaboutlifechallenges.org/
  6. "Post abortion stress syndrome - Will it go away?," AllAboutLifeChallenges.org, undated, at: http://www.allaboutlifechallenges.org/

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 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Medical problems > PAS > here

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Copyright © 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-OCT-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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