Tucson, Arizona–Women’s response to the experience of abortion involves many complex factors, writes Priscilla Coleman, Ph.D., Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, and coworkers in the winter issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. While a number of risk factors for post-abortion psychological distress have been identified, “group-level, quantitative studies often fail to capture the breadth of feelings and thoughts at the core of women’s individual experiences,” Dr. Coleman writes.
For this study, women presenting to a crisis pregnancy center for some type of post-abortion service were asked to complete an anonymous survey that included open-ended questions about the most significant positives (if any) and negatives (if any) that followed from their decision to abort. Nearly 1,000 women responded.
The authors found that only 13% of respondents reported visiting a mental health professional or counselor before the first pregnancy that ended in abortion, compared with 68% afterward. A large percentage of respondents reported potential risk factors for adverse reactions to abortion: “73.8% disagreed that their decision to abort was entirely free from even subtle pressure from others to abort.”
Asked about “significant positives,” 31.6% stated “none,” and 22% gave no response.
Notably lacking, state Coleman et al., were comments about “empowerment, the ability to control their reproductive destinies, liberation from abusive partners, the need for abortion in order to be competitive in the work place, etc.” Rather, the women mentioned themes related to spiritual growth, generally after years of excruciating psychological distress.
All but 20% of the women mentioned a significant negative. From that the authors identified 11 common themes, quoting a representative response for each. The most frequent one– mentioned by 23.7%–was “Took a life/loss of a life or lives.”
The authors state: “A summary of these data should serve to inform the development of more sophisticated and individualized pre-and post-abortion counseling protocols.” Qualitative data, previously available only in small-scale studies, are needed to gain insight into the complex emotional trajectories that women experience, they conclude.
The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons is published by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a national organization representing physicians in all specialties since 1943.