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NRL News
Page 16
June 2009
Volume 36
Issue 6

Report Calls for Further Study of Effects of Abortion on Women
By Liz Townsend

While women are deeply affected any time they lose an unborn child, such a loss is especially damaging if the woman freely chose to abort the baby, according to a report in Current Women’s Health Reviews.

Priscilla Coleman, associate professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green State University, reviewed existing studies on the psychological and behavioral responses of women after perinatal loss. The research she examined showed that pregnancy outcomes of miscarriage, adoption, and abortion have an impact on the woman’s mental health and subsequent parenting.

However, Coleman writes, “[p]reliminary assessment of relevant literature suggests the psychological experience and the cultural context of abortion may render this form of perinatal loss particularly damaging to the parenting process.”

The studies showed that the loss of a child leads to varying degrees of physical (poor appetite, disturbed sleep patterns, low energy/fatigue); emotional (anger, sadness, depression, frustration, self-blame/guilt); cognitive (hallucinations of a baby’s cry, phantom fetal movement); and behavioral (substance abuse, avoidance of pregnant women and children, isolation) reactions.

After a miscarriage, studies have found that between 10–50% of women suffer from anxiety or depression, with the most severe symptoms subsiding by about six months to one year after the event. Their feelings may be more negative depending on factors such as the age of the unborn baby, a lack of warning signs, or if there was a delay or difficulty in conception.

Mothers who choose adoption for their babies also experience effects of the loss, but many of their feelings seem to be exacerbated by the situation that led to their choice. Many women felt that outside pressures made the adoption feel less “voluntary,” and some did not receive support from family or friends that made them more vulnerable to negative effects. Coleman adds that “Contact and provision of information basically served to reduce guilt and fears regarding the child’s well-being.”

Abortion, however, leads to much more severe and longer lasting effects. The studies that have been done indicated that at least 10–30% of women experience serious psychological problems after abortion; that many women stated that “I felt a part of me died”; and that, over time, “the pain of abortion is inclined to worsen as women learn more about prenatal development and have children.”

Abortion also has an effect on many women’s subsequent parenting, Coleman reports. Effects include sleep disturbances, substance abuse, heightened risk for both child abuse and neglect, and enhanced mental health risks. According to Coleman, one study found that “[c]ompared to women with no history of induced abortion those with one prior abortion had a 144% increased risk of becoming abusive.”

These findings make a clear case that more research needs to be done on the effects of abortion, which even the limited amount of literature shows can be quite severe. Coleman speculates that the conventional wisdom about abortion—“the generally held belief that the optional nature of induced abortion precludes or reduces the likelihood of subsequent distress”—may preclude some research interest. “However,” she writes, “the choice to abort is often filled with conflicting emotions and external pressures, rendering the decision to abort difficult and sometimes quite inconsistent with the woman’s true desire.”

Coleman concludes with a call for more research on this important issue. “Much more scholarly attention should be devoted to the experiences of women who choose to abort and suffer from serious conflict between societal messages that deny the personhood of the fetus and their feelings of attachment and grief to this ‘non-entity,’” Coleman insists. “Any self-doubt or compromised self-esteem initiated by the choice to abort may worsen when there is a sense that one is not adjusting like ‘most women.’”