Some people may experience complex emotions when making the decision to have an abortion, and those emotions can sometimes become amplified when hearing inaccurate information designed to scare us out of our decision. Abortion providers are already required to state embellished physical risks of abortion to patients by law, but the anti-abortion community has long claimed that people who have abortions also risk developing Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS), too. In this blog, we’ll explain why PAS is nothing more than a myth, and how complex emotions at the time do not indicate you’re at risk for developing mental illness by having an abortion.
What Is “Post Abortion Syndrome”?
Post Abortion Syndrome does not exist. It is not a real mental illness — nor is it recognized by the American Psychological (or Psychiatric) Association (APA) — but in addition to claiming abortion is physically dangerous, opponents of abortion also claim those who have abortions risk a traumatic response as a result of their decision. Experts allude that since the physical safety of abortion is clear, opponents started focusing on a less structurally explored area decades ago: our mental health after an abortion. Anti-abortion activists who claim abortion causes PAS “often cite studies that have serious methodological flaws or draw inappropriate conclusions from more rigorous studies,” and they use the fact that the “general public and most policymakers” are unfamiliar with science-based studies to push for restrictions based on medically inaccurate findings.
What To Expect Emotionally After An Abortion
According to the APA, “the relative risk of mental health problems following a single elective first-trimester abortion of is no greater risk to mental health than carrying that pregnancy to term.” In fact, they state there is a “strong relationship between unwanted pregnancy and interpersonal violence”, and unwanted pregnancies “appear to be strongly associated with poor mental health effects for women later in life.” A study published in JAMA Psychiatry also found negative mental health impacts were only seen in women unable to access abortion when they needed it, and a study by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health concluded most people anticipate feeling relieved after their abortion; there is no medical evidence to suggest it would cause mental health issues afterward.
While studies on mental health following abortions may have been limited or anecdotal in the past, one study recently followed the experiences of 667 women in 21 states who participated in the Turnaway Study — a study which examined the effects of unintended pregnancies on women’s lives and focused on the mental health, physical health, and socioeconomic consequences of receiving an abortion versus continuing a pregnancy. Most women recruited from 2008-2010 were already parents, and the study concluded in 2015 with findings showing nearly all women (99%) — even those who had difficulty making their decision — did not regret their abortion a week after accessing it. In fact, they felt relief even five years afterward, which not only debunks the idea that we will regret our abortion, but it also debunks the entire basis of PAS.
Participants of the Turnaway Study were also asked about their experiences with six emotions: relief, happiness, anger, sadness, regret, guilt. Over half “responded that they felt mostly positive” while 20% “felt few to no emotions”, and 29% “felt either mixed or negative about their abortions within a week of ending their pregnancies.” At Austin Women’s Health Center, we understand there’s more than one way to feel about having an abortion, and we’re here to talk you through whatever emotions may arise for you. It’s okay if your experience doesn’t feel like someone else’s, and a complicated decision-making process doesn’t necessarily indicate you’ll regret it or struggle emotionally later.
Recognizing When to Seek Additional Support
While most people feel relieved relatively soon after their abortion, it’s okay if your experience doesn’t look like that right away. It can be helpful to come back to the reasons you made your decision and to lean into your support network when needed. Hormonal changes from pregnancy, in addition to making this decision, can sometimes leave us struggling with how we feel — and that’s okay. For many people, any residual complex feelings resolve shortly after, but for those who many experience them longer, they may believe they have post abortion syndrome. Don’t worry, there’s unbiased support ready to help.
The All-Options pregnancy options hotline offers confidential emotional support to people before, during, and after their decision to have an abortion. Hotline volunteers are trained in the wide spectrum of experiences people may have, they know not every situation may look the same, and some have even had abortions themselves. We provide information about this hotline to patients at our clinic because you deserve to feel supported through your abortion, and not everyone may have access to a trusted person in their life who won’t judge them. You can reach All-Options at 1-888-493-0092 between the following hours (Eastern Time):
Monday-Friday 10-1 am
Saturday-Sunday 10-6 pm
Exhale also offers support over the phone or through their text hotline. People can text the hotline at 617-749-2948 during the following hours (Pacific Time):
Sunday 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Monday 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Tuesday 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Wednesday 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Thursday 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.
For those who prefer to chat on the phone, Exhale partners with Connect & Breathe to offer non-judgmental support to people seeking abortions. You can reach them at 1-866-647-1764 between the following hours (Eastern Time):
Tuesdays 6 pm – 9 pm
Wednesdays 6 pm – 9 pm
Thursdays 6 pm – 9 pm
Saturdays 10 am – 2 pm
Complicated feelings may arise as a result of societal stigma towards abortion, and in our blog addressing this, you can read more about the spectrum of emotions you may feel, how stigma can compound those emotions further, and tangible ways to combat it. Recognizing the various ways stigma plays a part in our lives can help us understand that the decision we’re making may feel harder because of it. You can also familiarize yourself with our location and prepare for the possibility of encountering protestors. Knowing what to expect the day you arrive can help you feel more in control of the situation, and learning how to avoid protestors may prevent any uncomfortable emotions you have from being amplified.