This week experts testified before a Congressional subcommittee on a bill that would ban abortions nationwide past 20 weeks. A 2010 study of women who had abortions found that women undergoing later abortions face increased psychological risks, are more likely to be ambivalent about having an abortion and are more likely to need counseling and support.
The results came from an online survey of 374 women who answered a detailed questionnaire about the circumstances leading to their abortions, their previous mental health history, history or physical or sexual abuse and emotional state following abortion. The small study is the first to compare the experiences of women having early abortions compared to women having later abortions (in the second or third trimester).
The study, led by Dr. Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University, found that women having abortions after 13 weeks were more likely to report that:
- their partner desired the pregnancy (22.4 percent of women who had later abortions vs. 10.3 percent of women who had early abortions);
- that they were pressured by someone other than their partner to abort (47.8 percent vs. 30.5 percent);
- their partner didn’t know about the abortion (23.9 percent vs. 12.5 percent);
- they had left their partner before the abortion (28.3 percent vs. 15.6 percent);
- physical health concerns were a factor in having the abortion (29.8 percent vs. 14.7 percent).1
Ambivalence about the abortion, unwanted abortion and poor pre-abortion counseling were also commonly reported in the late-term abortion group. Nearly 40 percent said they desired the pregnancy and only 30 percent said both they and their partner supported the abortion, while less than 14 percent said they received adequate pre-abortion counseling or information on alternatives or physical and emotional risks.
“In general, these results are indicative of more ambivalence and conflict surrounding the decision and the likelihood of less stable partner relationships among women who obtain later abortions,” the authors wrote. “Logically, women who are unsure about how to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy are more likely to put off the decision to abort, perhaps hoping their circumstances will improve and enable them to carry to term.”
A survey of American and Russian women who had abortions, published in the Medical Science Monitor in 2004, found that 64 percent of the American respondents reported feeling pressured to abort, while more than half said they felt rushed or uncertain about the decision and more than 80 percent reported receiving inadequate counseling beforehand.
Emotional Effects of Abortion
The 2010 study also found high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms for women having both early and late abortions, with 52 percent of of the early abortion group and 67 percent of the late term abortion group meeting the American Psychological Association’s criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms (PTSD).
One possible cause may be a high number of women having unwanted abortions due to the reactions of those around them, the authors said. “Concern regarding reactions of others to having a child” was the mostly frequently cited reason for abortion for both early (69.1 percent) and late (62 percent) abortions. As a result, the authors noted, many women likely had abortions “despite ambivalence or actually desiring to continue the pregnancy.” Feelings of ambivalence or having an unwanted abortion are known risk factors for psychological problems after abortion.
When it came to differences between the late and early abortion groups, women having later abortions were more likely to report having disturbing dreams, reliving the abortion, having trouble sleeping and experiencing intrusion, a PTSD symptom that involves having recurring memories, flashbacks or hyperactivity when confronted with reminders of the trauma.
The previously mentioned Medical Science Monitor survey found that 65 percent of American women who had abortions reported experiencing symptoms of PTSD, which they attributed to their abortions. Other studies have also linked abortion to increased rates of depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders and other mental health problems.
The authors said that their study is best viewed as a “pilot” study on which to base future research on the psychological impact of late-term abortion, and called for more counseling and resources for women undergoing later abortions.
For more research on the impact of abortion on women, visit www.abortionrisks.org.
1. PK Coleman, CT Coyle & VM Rue, “Late-Term Elective Abortion and Susceptibility to Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms,” Journal of Pregnancy Vol. 2010 (2010).