Myth: Most women feel depression and trauma after an abortion.
Fact: The most common response to abortion is relief.
According to dozens of studies, the most common response to abortion by far is relief. This is probably because mothers already instinctively know what other studies have confirmed: unwanted children suffer much higher rates of social problems and dysfunctionality.
One of the most faulty arguments against abortion is that it causes severe depression and trauma to the mother. Abortion opponents even claim that women may even suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- five, ten or even twenty years later. Pamphlets handed out by pro-life protesters at abortion clinics usually start out with lines like "You're hurting."
The experiences of these women are not to be trivialized; most struggle with the decision to have an abortion, and most feel sorrow and regret. But the statistics overwhelmingly refute the claim that these women go on to suffer severe trauma. The predominant response to abortion is relief. This is confirmed by dozens of studies that have researched women's reactions to abortions (for example, Adler, 1975; Burnell, Dworsky, and Harrington, 1972; Lazarus, 1985; Payne, Kravitz, Notman, and Anderson, 1976; and Smith, 1973.) (1)
In one famous study, 90% of the women surveyed said their abortion was the right thing to do. (2)
C. Everett Koop, the Surgeon General under Ronald Reagan, conducted a study that tried to learn everything it could on abortion and concluded that the number of women who suffered from post-abortion trauma was minuscule. (3)
Apparently, a small percentage of women who are hurting in their ordinary lives decide to have abortions, and link any later trauma to this experience, but it is clear that abortion is not the primary source of their problems. As noted psychiatrist Nada Stotland observed, "There is not one piece of evidence for such a syndrome." (4)
Part of the problem with the pro-life claim is that they are misusing the term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Inevitably, all people experience loss or trauma at some point in their lives. Normally, they go through a period of disorganization, after which the healing process begins. In a few years they may be back to normal. But in a small percentage of cases, the trauma is unusually severe, and the victims unusually susceptible. PTSD is a well-defined and extreme condition brought on by extreme circumstances, like war, concentration camps, brutal rape, disaster or torture. The symptoms are unmistakably severe: insomnia, anxiety, reliving the nightmare, withdrawal from society, emotional numbness, extreme passivity, even refusal to leave one's house. And these symptoms usually settle in quickly, within weeks of the trauma, and without treatment usually last a lifetime. They do not lie dormant under the surface, to resurface five, ten, or fifteen years later. If someone has PTSD, they will know it beyond all doubt. Fortunately, there are almost no known cases of PTSD attributable to abortion alone.
However, the fact that the predominant response to abortion is relief should not lull young women into believing that it is an easy form of birth control. It's actually the worst and most expensive form -- there simply is no substitute for earlier and simpler forms of contraception.
As mentioned above, many women struggle with the decision to have an abortion. As one social worker writes: "In my work I have met literally hundreds of women who have made the decision. I have met few who did not stop and think every year that their child would be X years old now." Given the negative experience that abortion undoubtedly is, why is the predominant response to it relief?
One analogy is divorce. People may feel sorrow and pain from divorce, but mostly they feel relieved to be getting out of a hellish marriage. Likewise, women who choose abortion know it's the best of a bad set of options. Expectant mothers instinctively know when conditions are not right for raising a child, and that going through with the pregnancy would result in needless suffering. Again, studies bear out the wisdom of a mother's instinct. At least 10 studies -- from nations as diverse as the U.S., Sweden and Czechoslovakia -- have studied women who wanted abortions but could not get them, or had unwanted children for other reasons. These studies found that unwanted children suffer from most of the following: (5)