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PSYCHOLOGICAL REACTIONS REPORTED AFTER ABORTION
David C. Reardon, Ph.D., Elliot Institute
This survey instrument was distributed to women who had contact with WEBA, Victims of Choice, or Last Harvest Ministries. The latter two organizations used it as an intake form for women inquiring about post-abortion counseling or crisis pregnancy counseling. Compared to women who received the questionnaire from these latter two sources, the 111 participants from the WEBA distribution were significantly more likely to have already participated in post-abortion healing programs, and were significantly more likely to report feeling "reconciled with" their abortion "today" (56.1% vs 13.9%). 

Using chi-square tests for significance, women who had at least one abortion as a teen were significantly more likely to report: nightmares; flashbacks to the abortion; hysterical outbreaks; unforgiveness of those involved; feelings of guilt; fear of punishment from God; fear of harm coming upon their other children; a worsening of negative feelings about the abortion on the anniversary date of the abortion, during a later pregnancy, or when exposed to pro-choice propaganda; preoccupation with thoughts of the child they could have had; excessive interest in pregnant women; excessive interest in babies; experiencing false pregnancies; a dramatic personality change for the worse; a waking or sleeping "visitation" from the aborted child; having talked to the aborted child prior to the abortion. 

Women who aborted as teens were significantly less likely to report: a history of professional counseling prior to their abortion; that the memory of the abortion has faded with time; having undergone surgical sterilization to avoid the risk of another abortion; feeling more in touch with their feelings after the abortion; feelings of hatred toward all men. 

Women who reported having had more than one abortion were significantly more likely to report: a history of being physically abused as a child; a period of strong feelings of relief after the abortion; being pro-choice after the abortion; hatred of the man who made them pregnant; ending the relationship with their partner after the abortion; difficulty in maintaining and developing personal relationships; becoming promiscuous; being self-destructive; beginning to use or increasing the use of drugs after the abortion; feelings of anxiety; fear of God; fear of another pregnancy; fear of needing another abortion; fear for unknown reasons; frequently experiencing heavy bleeding after the abortion; emotional aftereffects of the abortion which were so severe that there was a period in which they could not function normally at home, work, or in personal relationships; having experienced a nervous breakdown at some time after the abortion. 

Women with a history of multiple abortions were significantly less likely to report: that the memory of their abortion was vividly clear; a worsening of abortion related feelings on the anniversary date of the abortion or the due date of the pregnancy. 

The following are the summary statistics to all questions, for all respondents. 


SURVEY OF REACTIONS TO ABORTION

A total of 260 women participated in this survey. Most questions are answered on a Likert scale between 1 and 5 indicating the range of the subjects agreement or disagreement with a statement regarding a particular reaction to their abortion. Since some women skipped questions which they felt were not applicable to them, or did not want to answer, or answered in a form that could not be coded, each item is accompanied by a number in parenthesis (N) which indicates the number of women who responded to that question. The percentages given correspond to this (N). 


Section 1 
Present age:
<20 20-24 25-29 30-34 35-39 >39
2.7% 11.2% 27.0% 24.3% 23.9% 10.8%
(N = 259) Avg: 32.0 yrs 
Race or ethnic origin:
White Non-White
92.3% 7.7%
(N = 255) 
State of residence: Respondents from 35 states
 
Highest grade completed:
<12 12 13 14 15 16 17 >17
7.5% 40.2% 12.2% 17.7% 1.6% 16.9% 1.2% 2.8%
(N = 254) Avg: 13.6 yrs 
How old were you at the time of your abortion?
<15 15-19 20-24 25-29 30-34 >35
1.9% 40.1% 36.2% 15.6% 4.3% 1.9%
(N = 257) Avg: 21.5 yrs 
Time since abortion, in years: 

(a calculated field) 

<6 6-10 11-15 16-20 >20 
19.8% 33.1% 31.1% 12.1% 3.9%
(N = 257) Avg: 10.6 yrs 
Was your abortion.. . .
LEGAL or ILLEGAL? (Indicated one of each)
92.1%
7.1% 
.8% 
(N = 251) 
How many abortions have you had?
One Two Three Four or more
73.6% 17.8% 5% 3.5%
(N = 258) 
Marital status at that time:
Single Married Engaged Separated/Divorced
64.6% 15.4% 7.1% 13.0%
(N = 254) 
How many weeks pregnant were you at that time?
<5 5-6 7-8 9-10 11-12 13-16 16-20 >20
7.7% 11.7% 28.3% 16.2% 21.1% 10.9% 2.4% 1.6%
(N = 247) Avg: 9.6 wks 
How many children did you have at that time?
Zero One Two Three Over Three
74.2% 13.8% 8.5% 2.7% 0%
(N = 260) 
What type of abortion procedure was used?
Suction D & C Saline/ 

Prostaglandin

Other
80.0% 13.5% 3.7% 2.9%
(N = 245) 
Were you awake during the procedure?
Yes No Unsure
79.6% 18.8% 1.6%
(N = 255) 
 
 
Were you given pain killers or anesthetics prior to the operation?
Yes No Unsure
54.7% 32.0% 13.3%
(N = 256) 


Section 2 

The questions in the following section require an answer on a scale of ranging from 5 to 1. Answer by circling number 5 if you strongly agree with the statement, 4 if you agree , and 3 if you are uncertain . If you disagree with the statement, circle number 2, and if you strongly disagree with the statement or if the opposite was true in your case, circle number 1. If you believe the question does not apply to you, leave it blank. 


(N) Strongly 

Disagree

Strongly 

Agree

1. Prior to my abortion, I believed that abortion was a moral choice. (252) 15.1% 9.1% 36.9% 22.2% 16.7%
2. I believed abortion should be a legal option for all women. (257) 29.2% 10.1% 24.9% 19.5% 16.3%
3. My choice to abort was consistent with my prior beliefs about abortion. (254) 36.2% 17.3% 18.5% 16.1% 11.8%
4. My choice was inconsistent with my prior beliefs. I felt my decision was a betrayal of my own ideals. (248) 12.9% 11.3% 15.3% 14.9% 45.6%
5. My decision to have an abortion was an agonizing one. (256) 8.4% 11.6% 7.2% 18.5% 54.2%
6. Prior to my abortion I was a religious person. (259) 16.6% 19.7% 17.0% 26.3% 20.5%
7. There was a time prior to my abortion when I received professional counseling for emotional or psychiatric difficulties. (248) 59.7% 12.9% 4.0% 10.1% 13.3%
8. The memory of my abortion has faded with time. (256) 52.0% 22.3% 6.6% 10.2% 9.0%
9. The memory of my abortion is vividly clear. (255) 8.2% 10.2% 9.8% 25.1% 46.7%
10. The abortion procedure was painful. (257) 10.9% 8.2% 12.1% 22.2% 46.7%

Section 3 

The following is a checklist of possible post-abortion reactions. Answers again range from 1, "Strongly Disagree," to 5, "Strongly Agree." In general, answer 2 for NO , 3 for Uncertain , and 4 for YES . Only if you experienced a severe reaction, should you answer with number 5. If you experienced a strong reaction opposite to the one questioned, answer by circling number 1. If the question is not applicable to your case, leave the question blank. 


AFTER MY ABORTION, I EXPERIENCED FEELINGS OF: (N) Strongly 

Disagree

Strongly 

Agree

1. Guilt (256) 0.4% 2.3% 4.7% 31.3% 61.3%
2. Depression (255) 0.4% 3.9% 7.5% 35.7% 52.5%
3. Anger (255) 1.2% 9.0% 9.0% 35.7% 45.1%
4. Sorrow (255) 0.4% 2.4% 5.5% 36.5% 55.3%
5. Happiness (241) 62.2% 22.4% 7.9% 5.4% 2.1%
6. Grief (255) 0.8% 5.5% 9.0% 40.8% 43.9%
7. Bitterness (251) 3.2% 8.8% 13.5% 34.7% 39.8%
8. Regret (257) 1.9% 3.5% 9.7% 32.7% 52.1%
9. Rage (245) 9.4% 20.0% 20.4% 21.2% 29.0%
10. Anguish (245) 2.0% 7.8% 14.3% 37.1% 38.8%
11. Remorse (254) 1.6% 5.9% 6.3% 41.3% 44.9%
12. Power (237) 58.6% 23.2% 12.2% 3.8% 2.1%
13. Despair (245) 2.4% 9.8% 13.9% 35.5% 38.4%
14. Shame (254) 0.4% 2.8% 5.9% 39.0% 52.0%
15. Horror (241) 4.6% 13.3% 23.2% 29.0% 29.9%
16. Unworthiness (254) 1.6% 3.9% 8.7% 33.5% 52.4%
17. Loneliness (250) 2.0% 6.8% 7.6% 38.4% 45.2%
18. Hopelessness (247) 2.0% 11.3% 13.4% 32.0% 41.3%
19. Helplessness (248) 2.0% 14.1% 11.7% 31.5% 40.7%
20. Self-condemnation (251) 1.2% 2.4% 5.6% 33.9% 57.0%
21. Liberation (234) 44.4% 25.2% 16.7% 11.5% 2.1%
22. Rejection (238) 4.6% 10.1% 24.8% 31.1% 29.4%
23. Confusion (250) 1.2% 6.4% 11.6% 44.4% 36.4%
24. Anxiety (248) 1.6% 6.5% 10.5% 43.5% 37.9%
25. Constant stress (246) 2.0% 14.2% 19.5% 33.3% 30.9%
26. Withdrawal (245) 2.9% 15.5% 16.7% 33.1% 31.8%
27. Isolation (241) 3.3% 17.4% 17.4% 31.5% 30.3%
28. Sexual freedom (235) 40.0% 25.5% 19.1% 11.1% 4.3%
 
(N)
Strongly 
Disagree
Strongly 

Agree

29. Self-hatred (250) 2.8% 6.8% 13.6% 33.2% 43.6%
30. Alienation from others (238) 3.4% 20.6% 18.5% 31.9% 25.6%
31. Inner peace (237) 63.7% 25.7% 5.5% 2.1% 3.0%
32. Unforgiveness of self (258) 1.9% 5.8% 6.6% 31.4% 54.3%
 
(N)
Strongly 
Disagree
Strongly 

Agree

33. Unforgiveness of those involved (252) 5.6% 15.5% 14.7% 34.9% 29.4%
34. Having become degraded or debased (243) 2.1% 12.8% 17.7% 37.4% 30.0%
35. Having been exploited by other (243) 2.9% 15.2% 19.3% 30.9% 31.7%
36. Hatred of those involved (240) 7.9% 22.5% 22.9% 22.9% 23.8%
37. Hatred of man who made me pregnant (249) 15.3% 29.7% 20.1% 16.9% 18.1%
38. Hatred of all men (243) 23.0% 33.7% 19.8% 15.2% 8.2%
39. Fear of punishment from God (249) 4.4% 12.0% 13.3% 34.9% 35.3%
40. Fear of harm to my other children (218) 17.0% 21.6% 12.8% 25.2% 23.4%
41. Fear of another pregnancy (245) 13.5% 23.7% 13.9% 25.3% 23.7%
42. Fear of needing another abortion (244) 24.2% 28.7% 12.3% 15.2% 19.7%
43. Fear of touching babies (246) 24.8% 37.0% 13.0% 13.8% 11.4%
44. Fear of others learning of abortion (255) 5.5% 9.4% 8.2% 42.0% 34.9%
45. Fear of making decisions (245) 6.9% 21.6% 23.3% 28.2% 20.0%
46. Fear for unknown reasons (245) 6.1% 16.3% 20.8% 28.6% 28.2%
 
AFTER MY ABORTION, I EXPERIENCED:
(N)
Strongly 
Disagree
Strongly 

Agree

1. Nightmares (241) 16.2% 22.4% 14.9% 28.6% 17.8%
2. Insomnia (243) 15.2% 25.5% 14.4% 25.5% 19.3%
3. Flashbacks to the abortion (249) 8.0% 18.1% 10.4% 35.3% 28.1%
4. Hysterical outbreaks (244) 11.1% 25.4% 12.7% 22.5% 28.3%
5. Uncontrollable weeping (242) 5.8% 14.5% 9.9% 35.5% 34.3%
6. Suicidal feelings (244) 12.3% 22.5% 9.4% 24.2% 31.6%
7. Greater closeness toward my lover (242) 51.7% 29.8% 9.1% 7.0% 2.5%
8. A loss of self-confidence (249) 2.4% 9.2% 12.9% 38.2% 37.3%
9. A loss of self-esteem (254) 1.2% 5.9% 10.6% 38.2% 44.1%
10. A loss of dignity (251) 1.2% 8.0% 10.4% 42.2% 38.2%
11. A general sense of loss (253) 1.6% 4.3% 7.9% 42.3% 43.9%
12. Greater self-awareness (237) 36.3% 27.8% 19.0% 11.8% 5.1%
13. Hallucinations related to abortion (233) 30.0% 41.6% 13.7% 6.9% 7.7%
14. Eating disorders such as bulimia anorexia, or binge eating. (241) 22.4% 31.5% 7.5% 20.3% 18.3%
15. A general sense of emptiness (248) 1.6% 7.7% 7.3% 42.7% 40.7%
16. A loss of sympathy for others (242) 16.5% 22.7% 21.5% 22.7% 16.5%
17. A compulsion to be a perfect mother (231) 10.0% 19.0% 21.2% 24.7% 25.1%
18. An inability to keep jobs (232) 27.6% 33.6% 14.2% 15.9% 8.6%
19. A loss of concentration (236) 8.9% 22.5% 21.2% 29.2% 18.2%
20. A difficulty in maintaining and developing personal relationships (246) 9.3% 19.5% 14.2% 30.1% 26.8%
 
AFTER MY ABORTION, I BECAME:
(N)
Strongly 
Disagree
Strongly 

Agree

1. Preoccupied with thoughts of death. (243) 14.4% 29.6% 13.2% 20.6% 22.2%
2. Preoccupied with thoughts of the child I could have had. (252) 5.6% 12.7% 10.3% 34.9% 36.5%
3. Excessively interested in pregnant women. (243) 21.0% 33.7% 15.2% 17.7% 12.3%
4. Excessively interested in babies. (244) 18.9% 28.3% 15.2% 19.3% 18.4%
 
NEGATIVE FEELINGS ABOUT MY ABORTION BECAME WORSE:
(N)
Strongly 
Disagree
Strongly 

Agree

1. On the due date of pregnancy. (238) 10.9% 25.6% 20.6% 21.8% 21.0%
2. On the anniversary of the abortion. (235) 11.5% 17.4% 19.6% 26.4% 25.1%
3. During a later pregnancy. (199) 16.1% 18.1% 11.1% 28.6% 26.1%
4. At the birth of a later child. (200) 19.5% 21.0% 10.5% 23.0% 26.0%
5. At the time of a later miscarriage. (151) 33.8% 28.5% 10.6% 11.3% 15.9%
6. When I later tried to get pregnant. (181) 24.3% 24.3% 11.0% 19.9% 20.4%
7. When exposed to pro-life propaganda. (242) 8.3% 9.9% 5.0% 38.8% 38.0%
8. When exposed to pro-choice propaganda. (227) 10.6% 15.0% 9.3% 31.3% 33.9%
9. When exposed to information in the mass media about fetal development. (239) 7.1% 8.4% 7.9% 34.3% 42.3%
 
AFTER MY ABORTION:
(N)
Strongly 
Disagree
Strongly 

Agree

1. I felt more in touch with my emotions. (247) 37.7% 36.4% 14.2% 6.1% 5.7%
2. I felt a need to block out and stifle my feelings. (250) 3.2% 6.8% 10.8% 35.2% 44.0%
3. I needed to "force" myself to be happy. (250) 2.0% 10.8% 17.6% 38.8% 30.8%
4. I felt unable to grieve. (248) 8.5% 17.7% 13.7% 35.1% 25.0%
5. My attitude toward life became more calloused or hardened. (245) 5.3% 11.4% 17.6% 35.5% 30.2%
6. I felt more in control of my life. (244) 41.8% 41.4% 9.4% 3.7% 3.7%
7. I started losing my temper more easily. (245) 5.3% 14.3% 21.2% 35.1% 24.1%
8. I became more violent when angered. (246) 10.6% 26.4% 15.4% 26.8% 20.7%
9. I began to drink more heavily. (244) 27.0% 27.5% 9.0% 19.3% 17.2%
 
If so, would you describe yourself as having become an alcoholic? (107) Yes No Unsure
27.1% 50.5% 22.4%
 
10. I began to use, or increased my use of drugs.
(N)
Strongly 
Disagree
Strongly 

Agree

(234) 33.8% 20.5% 5.1% 21.4% 19.2%
 
If so, would you describe yourself as having become addicted? (106) Yes No Unsure
25.5% 61.3% 13.2%
 
(N)
Strongly 
Disagree
Strongly 

Agree

11. Because of my abortion experience, I underwent a dramatic personality change. (240) 6.7% 15.4% 26.7% 26.7% 24.6%
If so, the change was for the better. 

(1 - worse, 5 - better)

(155) 61.3% 18.1% 12.9% 4.5% 3.2%
12. I experienced a radical change in my ideals and moral beliefs. (237) 8.4% 17.7% 29.5% 21.5% 22.8%

Section 4 
Answer the following questions by checking the appropriate box or filling in the blank space as required. 
(N) Yes No Unsure
1. Was there a time after your abortion when you would have considered yourself pro-choice? (250) 46.0% 36.8% 17.2%
2. Was there a time after your abortion when you would have encouraged or supported a woman in similar circumstances to consider abortion? (252) 31.7% 54.0% 14.3%
3. Have you ever regretted having had the abortion? (251) 94.0% 3.2% 2.8%
4. Have you ever had a waking or sleeping visitation from the aborted child? (248) 17.7% 73.0% 9.3%
If so, was the mood of the visitation ( 46 ) vengeful or forgiving?
23.9%
74.1%
 
(N)
Yes No Unsure
5. Did you ever talk to the aborted child prior to the abortion?
(249)
32.1% 61.8% 6.0%
6. Did you ever talk to the aborted child after the abortion?
(248)
48.8% 45.6% 5.6%
7. Did your relationship with your sexual partner come to an end after the abortion?
(248)
66.1% 31.0% 2.8%
 
If so, how soon after the abortion ? 

(N = 166)

within 1 month within 6 months a year or more
55.4% 22.9% 21.7%
 
(N) Yes No Unsure
8. Did you experience greater irregularity of menstrual periods after your abortion? (249) 33.7% 55.8% 10.4%
9. Did you frequently experience heavy bleeding after your abortion? (250) 41.2% 50.4% 8.4%
10. Did you experience pain in the cervix or abdomen? (249) 58.2% 31.3% 10.4%
11. Did you experience an increased sense of pain during intercourse? (247) 33.2% 49.0% 17.8%
12. Did you experience a loss of pleasure from intercourse? (248) 58.5% 28.2% 13.3%
13. Did you develop an aversion to sexual intercourse or become sexually unresponsive? (247) 46.6% 38.5% 15.0%
14. Did you become promiscuous after your abortion? (246) 42.7% 51.6% 5.7%
15. Did you experience greater fear of becoming pregnant when waiting for each period to begin? (246) 48.8% 45.5% 5.7%
16. Did you have your self surgically sterilized in order to avoid the risk of needing another abortion? (250) 8.8% 90.4% 0.8%
17. Did you ever experience any false pregnancies after your abortion? (247) 24.7% 68.4% 6.9%
18. Did you attempt to atone for your abortion by conceiving a "replacement pregnancy?" (245) 28.6% 62.9% 8.6%
 
If so, how long after your abortion did you become pregnant again? (IN MONTHS)     (N=76)
Months 
1-6 7-12 13-24 25-36 OVER 36
15.8% 28.9% 15.7% 11.8% 27.6%
 
(N) Yes No Unsure
19. Did you ever attempt suicide? (248) 28.2% 70.2% 1.6%
 
If so, how many times? One Two Three Four Over Four
46.8% 30.6% 16.1% 0% 6.5%
 
(N) Yes No Unsure
20. Were you ever physically abused as a child? (248) 20.6% 71.4% 8.1%
21. Were you ever sexually abused as a child? (247) 24.3% 65.6% 10.1%
22. Did you ever abuse your children before your abortion? (193) 2.1% 96.9% 1.0%
23. Did you ever emotionally abuse your children before your abortion? (190) 4.2% 92.6% 3.2%
24. After your abortion, did you experience a strong feeling of relief? (248) 37.9% 49.6% 12.5%
 
If so, did it last ... 

(N =95)

weeks months or years?
60.0% 12.6% 25.3%
 
(N) Yes No Unsure
25. After your abortion, did you experience any negative reactions or ambivalent feelings? (253) 89.3% 2.0% 8.7%
 
If so, when did you experience the first of your negative or ambivalent feelings? (N = 228) Immediately Within 6 months After a year or more
64.5% 18.9% 16.7%
 
If so, when did you experience the majority(or worst) of your negative feelings? 

(N = 222)

Immediately Within 6 months After a year or more
21.2% 18.5% 60.4%
 
(N) Yes No Unsure
26. Do you feel fully reconciled with your abortion experience today? (251) 31.9% 51.0% 17.1%
27. Knowing where your life is today, did your abortion improve your life? (253) 5.9% 71.9% 22.1%

Section 5: 
If you have never experienced any negative or uncertain feelings about your abortion, you may stop here. 
THANK YOU for your valuable participation. 

(N)
Mild Moderate Severe Very Severe
1. Overall, how severe were the emotional aftereffects of your abortion?
(246)
5.3% 23.6% 41.5% 29.7%
 
(N)
Yes No Unsure
2. Was there any time during which your 

reactions were so severe that you were unable to function normally at home, work, or in personal relationships?

(244)
55.3% 34.8% 9.8%
 

 
 
 
 

If so, how long did this disability last?
MONTHS 
1-6
7-12 13-24 25-36 >36
41.5%
7.6% 12.2% 12.2 26.4
 
(N)
Yes No Unsure
3. Would you describe yourself as self-destructive? (245) 36.7% 50.6% 12.7%
4. Did you undergo a nervous breakdown at some time after your abortion?
(241)
20.3% 63.1% 16.6%
5. Were you ever hospitalized for psychological treatment because of the abortion? (244) 10.2% 89.8% --
6. Was there a period of time during which you denied the existence of any doubts or negative feelings about your abortion?
(245)
62.9% 24.1% 13.1%
 

 
 

If so, for how long? 

Avg: 63.1 mos. (N = 124)

MONTHS
1-6
7-12 13-24 25-36 >36
24.2%
9.7% 8.0% 8.0 50.0%
 
(N)
Yes No Unsure
7. Despite your negative feelings, do you still believe the choice to have an abortion was the right thing to do?
(247)
2.8% 86.6% 10.5%
If not, was there a time after recognizingyour negative feelings during which would have still insisted that you had done the right thing?
(214)
19.2% 61.2% 19.6%
 
If so, for how long? 

Avg: 4.6 yrs. (N = 37)

YEARS 
1
2 3 4 5 >5
32.4%
16.2% 8.1% 5.4% 18.9% 18.9%
 
YEARS 
8. How long did it take for you to begin to reconcile yourself to your abortion experience?
<1
1-2 3-5 6-10 >10
Avg: 7.5 yrs. (N = 184)
6.5%
11.4% 25.6 35.3 21.2%
 
(N)
Yes No Unsure
9. Do you feel fully reconciled with your abortion experience today?
(241)
31.9% 48.5% 20.3%
10. Has abortion made your life worse?
(238)
60.9% 16.4% 22.7%
 
11. Place a check mark next to whichever of the following persons you went to for help in coping with your negative feelings, and check whether or not they were helpful.
(N) Talked with: was Helpful Not Helpful Uncertain
(86) psychologist/psychiatrist 38.5% 58.1% 3.5%
(63) social worker/counselor 41.3% 57.7% 1.6%
(92) clergy 68.5% 31.5% 0.0%
(69) parent(s) 36.2% 62.3% 1.4%
(145) husband/boyfriend(s) 46.9% 49.0% 4.0%
(144) friends 60.4% 38.2% 1.4%
(88) post-abortion counseling group 90.9% 8.0% 1.1%
(45) other : __________ 80.0% 17.8% 2.2%
Among the most frequent listed "other" were religious references to God, Jesus, the bible, and prayer (39%).Also listed were sister, aunt, and bartender, nurse, and pro-life person.

Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review, 2(3):4-8, Fall 1994.  Copyright 1994 Elliot Institute. 


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