The myth of “post-abortion syndrome” was invented by the anti-choice movement to scare women out of having abortions. The best scientific evidence indicates that among adult women with an unplanned pregnancy, the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater after an early abortion than after childbirth.
A July 2015 study from the United States found that 99% of women don’t regret their abortions. Women in the study experienced decreasing emotional intensity over time, and the overwhelming majority felt that termination was the right decision for them over three years. An earlier study in 2000 found that 80% of women were not depressed after having an abortion, nearly 70% reported being satisfied with the decision, and 72% reported more benefit than harm from the abortion. When women are denied abortion, they are more likely to live in poverty and in abusive situations at home, and unwanted children also suffer.
The most commonly reported feeling after an abortion is relief. Grief and sadness are also common emotions after an abortion, as for any serious life event, but negative emotions generally subside within a few weeks. Often, such feelings are related to the unwanted pregnancy or other life factors, not to the abortion itself, which tends to resolve anxiety and stress.
Across studies, prior mental health is the strongest predictor of post-abortion mental health. Certain subsets of women may also have more difficulty coping after an abortion, such as teenagers, women with wanted pregnancies gone wrong, women who were ambivalent, and very religious women. Ironically, negative emotions like guilt and shame are often the result of stigma imposed by the anti-choice movement.
American Psychological Association, Mental Health and Abortion, 2008
PLOS One, Decision Rightness and Emotional Responses to Abortion in the United States: A Longitudinal Study, Rocca et al., July 2015
ANSIRH – The Turnaway Study (2015)
HP David – Born Unwanted: mental health costs and consequences (2011)
JAMA Psychiatry, Psychological Responses of Women After First-Trimester Abortion, Major et al., 2000
American Psychologist, Abortion and Mental Health: Evaluating the Evidence, Major et al., 2009
Guttmacher Institute, Abortion and Mental Health, 2011
Guttmacher Institute, , Still True: Abortion Does Not Increase Women’s Risk of Mental Health Problems (2013)