Abortion is a common medical procedure which has been socially stigmatized and politicized. Sometimes, women and men may experience feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, and other symptoms of emotional distress after the termination of the pregnancy. There is help and hope. The nation understands abortion in terms of the competing rights of the fetus and the pregnant woman. It can be a political lightning rod. Outside political views are not invited inside the confidential non-judgmental counseling office space.
Researcher Vincent Rue proposed the existence of post-abortion syndrome (PAS), a variant of post-traumatic stress disorder; however, PAS has not been included in the latest professional manual for mental health diagnosis DSM-5. Symptoms of distress may produce feelings of: prolonged distress, depression, guilt, shame, self-directed blame and anger, sadness, intrusive thoughts about the cause of the fetal death, problematic family or spiritual relationships and incorporate disenfranchised grief. Others argue that abortion-related distress may be related to the circumstances which led to the pregnancy and the need for abortion, rather than the actual abortion procedure itself. Either way, the individual can be left with emotional distress. Research indicates that recovery is possible. Processing the distress with trusted friends or a therapist may prevent the issue from leading to a long-term diagnosable condition.
Risk factors for emotional distress may include:
- terminating a wanted pregnancy
- feeling pressured into an abortion by partner, vocation, family, or by social pressure
- perceiving the need for secrecy resulting in feelings of shame and/or disenfranchised grief
- identifying with a religious or cultural group that embraces the ideology that abortion is wrong
- changing one’s mind afterward
- worldview changes after time (social, political, religious)
- lack of social support
If you struggle with emotional distress after terminating a pregnancy, it is important to: develop skills in self-compassion; understand your full life’s story, which played a role in your decisions and your feelings today; learn nonjudgmental techniques to process feelings; and, to seek trusted compassionate others in which to share your story. There are many licensed professional counselors in your area who can help. Local licensed therapists can be found at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists. Please be courageous and seek help when needed. I can be reached at: Connie@FreedomsHopeCounseling.com if you would like to schedule a consultation, or click on the contact link here.
Katz, J., Supporting women coping with emotional distress after abortion. The Professional Counselor. 9(2) pp 100–108. http://tpcjournal.nbcc.org © 2019 NBCC, Inc. and Affiliates. doi:10.15241/jk.9.2.100