Pro-Choice Researchers Recognize PAS

Pro-Choice Researchers Recognize PAS

Half a Million Women May Suffer From Post-Abortion Syndrome

Pro-choice researchers writing in the August issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry have acknowledged that some women experience post-abortion syndrome (PAS). The research team, led by Dr. Brenda Major, diagnosed PAS among 1.4 percent of a sample of women who had abortions two years previously.

“Even at the low rate identified in this study, the impact is tremendous,” said Dr. Vincent Rue, who first proposed PAS as a variant of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 1981. “With 40 million abortions since 1972, this would translate into 560,000 cases of PAS.”

In addition, 20 percent of the women in the study experienced clinical depression after abortion, and 31 percent said that if they had to do it over again, they would not have chosen abortion or they were uncertain if they would have chosen it. “Ambivalence is a good predictor of post-abortion problems,” Rue said. “It’s likely that many of these women are having post-abortion symptoms that simply fall short of full-blown PAS.”

The research team concluded that women who did experience post-abortion problems or regret over their decision tended to have a prior history of depression. Elliot Institute director Dr. David Reardon said that this finding shows that abortions should provide better pre-abortion counseling and screening for known risk factors that put women at risk for psychological problems after abortion.

“While Major’s study has merit, it is inappropriate to conclude that abortion is a benign experience for most women,” Reardon said. “The biggest shortcomings of this study are the high dropout and refusal rates. Even though women were offered payment to participate, 15 percent of the women who were initially approached refused to participate, and 50 percent of those who originally participated refused to participate in follow-up interviews.”

A recent study found that women who declined to participate in post-abortion follow-up interviews most closely matched the characteristics of women who experienced the most post-abortion distress. Dr. Hanna Soderberg, the study’s lead author, reported that “for many of the women, the reason for non-participation seemed to be a sense of guilt and remorse that they did not wish to discuss.”

Soderberg’s research team found that approximately 60 percent of the women in their sample of 854 women had experienced emotional distress after their abortions. This distress was classified as “severe,” or warranting professional psychiatric attention, among 16 percent of the women. In addition, over 70 percent stated that they would never consider an abortion again if they faced an unwanted pregnancy.

Reardon also pointed to other findings in Major’s study that deserve closer attention.

“Major’s research team found that over time, negative feelings and dissatisfaction with the abortion decision increased among the women in the study,” he said. “In addition, only a minority of women reported positive feelings relating to their abortions, and on average they reported no benefits from their abortions. This general ambivalence, combined with a trend toward increasing negative reactions, contradicts the claim that abortion is generally beneficial to women.”


Originally printed in The Post-Abortion Review, Issue 8(3), July-Sept. 2000. Copyright 2000, Elliot Institute.


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