Mythbustin’ Monday: Post Abortion Syndrome

As some of our dear readers may or may not know, while I’m not busy being a proponent of working women’s history, I moonlight as co-president of Dukes for Choice. And in the last few months, I’ve had to answer a LOT of questions about abortion, reproductive health, and women’s rights in general. So I thought I’d use the first Mythbustin’ Monday of the semester to bust one of my favorite myths about abortion: Post abortion syndrome, or PAS.

PAS is usually cited by anti-choicers as one of the main reasons to not get an abortion. The term was first used in 1981 by Vincent Rue (a pro-life advocate… so not biased at all) when he testified in front of Congress. But the term didn’t become popular until 1988, when Ronald Reagan directed C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General, to produce a study highlighting the negative psychological impacts of abortion (now that’s an agenda if I’ve ever heard one). Reagan believed that such a report would force state legislatures to pass laws preventing access to reproductive choice. Interestingly, Koop refused to testify because, while he was philosophically opposed to abortion, he found no medical evidence to support any restrictions.

Despite C. Everett Koop’s lack of findings, anti-choicers continued to perpetuate the idea that after receiving an abortion, women experienced psychological symptoms such as depression and PTSD. According to the anti-choice website, there are fourteen symptoms of PAS:

1. Guilt.
2. Anxiety.
3. Psychological “numbing.”

4. Depression and thoughts of suicide.

5. Anniversary syndrome.

6. Re-experiencing the abortion.

7. Preoccupation with becoming pregnant again.

8. Anxiety over fertility and childbearing issues.

9. Interruption of the bonding process with present and/or future children.

10. Survival guilt.

11. Development of eating disorders.

12. Alcohol and drug abuse.

13. Other self-punishing or self-degrading behaviors.

14. Brief reactive psychosis.

If I were going to have a procedure and thought that these were going to be the after-effects, I would definitely think twice about going through with it. I mean, just because C. Everett Koop couldn’t find any evidence of this in the 80’s doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, right? Wrong. Multiple studies, including several done by the American Psychological Association, have found that these claims are unfounded.

One study followed 360 adolescents for two years after they had been interviewed when seeking a pregnancy test. The study included girls who though they might be pregnant but turned out not to be, some who were pregnant and carried to term, and some who were pregnant and then aborted the pregnancy. The researchers found that

‘the adolescents who chose abortion showed significant drops in anxiety and significant increases in self esteem and internal control in the period immediately following the abortion to two years later. They appeared to be functioning as well as, or even better than, adolescents who turned out not to be pregnant or had carried to term. They were also most likely to have higher economic well-being; most likely to be in high school (and performing at grade level) or to have graduated; and less likely to have a subsequent pregnancy.’

The panel concluded that, despite the pro-life movement’s hopeful assertions, legal abortion simply didn’t cause psychological trauma, despite the obvious stresses involved in an unwanted pregnancy. The panel discovered that after an abortion, emotions are complicated, positive, and, yes, negative, but not long lasting.

— Cristina Page (quoting the APA), How The Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, p. 12, emphasis mine

In addition to this study, a press release from 2008 states quite plainly that there is no link between the elective abortion of an unplanned pregnancy and mental health issues.

The report noted that other co-occurring risk factors, including poverty, prior exposure to violence, a history of emotional problems, a history of drug or alcohol use, and prior unwanted births predispose women to experience both unwanted pregnancies and mental health problems after a pregnancy, irrespective of how the pregnancy is resolved. Failures to control for these co-occurring risk factors, the task force noted, may lead to reports of associations between abortion history and mental health problems that are misleading.

There you have it, readers. Despite what the anti-choice movement would like you to believe, there is no link between abortion and mental health problems, and no such thing as PAS. Like any other medical procedure, abortion results in varying reactions depending on the person. For more anecdotal proof, I recommend both and

4 thoughts on “Mythbustin’ Monday: Post Abortion Syndrome

    1. Thanks for pointing that out, internationalcupcakebandit. However, the idea of PAS stems from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the term was invented by anti-choice activists, not doctors. Vincent Rue was the first person to use the term, and he claimed he had observed PTSD in response to the “stress” of abortion. Also, Postpartum Depression only occurs post-childbirth, not after pregnancy. Hope that clears things up!


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