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New study examines the emotional aftermath of abortion: ‘I carry the pain of a child lost forever’

A new study surveyed women about the emotional aftermath of their abortions and its authors said the results were “not reflective of contemporary feminist rhetoric.”

What did the study find?

The study, titled, “Women Who Suffered Emotionally from Abortion: A Qualitative Synthesis of Their Experiences,” was published by the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. It surveyed 987 women ages 20 to 72 who said they had undergone an abortion procedure. Participants said they had undergone anywhere from one to nine abortions.

The study found that of the 987 respondents, 13 percent reported having visited a mental health professional prior to their first abortion, while 67.5 percent said they visited a mental health professional afterward. Just 6.6 percent of respondents said they used prescription drugs for their psychological health prior their first abortion, while 51 percent said they did so after the procedure.

A majority of women — 58.3 percent — said they underwent the abortion “to make others happy,” and 73.8 percent replied that they disagreed that their decision to undergo the procedure “was entirely free from even subtle pressure from others to abort.”

Over a quarter of respondents — 28.4 percent — said they had an abortion because they were afraid of losing their partner if they did not.

Nearly half — 49.2 percent — said they believed their unborn child was a human being at the time of their abortion, while 33.2 percent said they felt emotionally connected to their baby prior to the abortion. Sixty-six percent said they “knew in their hearts that they were making a mistake” when they underwent their abortion.

Asked if there were any positive aspects of their abortion, 31.6 percent said there were none, while another 22 percent offered no response to the question.

“None, there are no positives,” one respondent said. “My life is no better, it is much worse. I carry the pain of a child lost forever. Although I know I am forgiven and have worked through the guilt and shame, the heart-wrenching pain is still there. I would rather have been a single mother of two and have my baby here to love and dote on than the pain of empty arms.”

What did the respondents say?

Some respondents reported having a deepened spiritual life in the aftermath of the procedure.

“The one positive is that it has brought me to my end and brought me to my knees before God,” one said. “He has drawn me to him through His endless forgiveness, mercy, and grace. I think He could have shown me those same things had I chosen another path, but this is how I came to Him, not as a Christian, because I already was one, but as one who really knows Him now.”

Asked about the most significant negatives of their procedure, 23.7 percent replied that they felt the loss of life.

“My child is dead and by my own choice,” one said:

I spent years of anger, shame, and grief. It damaged my relationship with my husband, my children, and my God. For 30 years I did not speak of it to anyone but my husband. My grief overwhelmed him and left him powerless and ashamed. For years I cried every Sunday in church, experienced dark depressions, thoughts of suicide, and flashes of anger. My relationship with my children was unbalanced. I had to be the perfect mom and they the perfect children or I believed myself to be beneath contempt. Imagine the mess in which I lived. Had it not been for the Biblical counseling I received through a local CPC I would be there still.

Some reported regret, anger, guilt, self-hatred, and shame. Some described anxiety or depression.

“Every woman knows in her heart that abortion is wrong,” one respondent said:

Even though I was young & scared, there was a feeling of “working against” myself. Through my twenties I would think about it but pushed it aside. It was only when I married & started my family that I began to really struggle with my abortion decision. When my first son was born I realized what I had done so many years ago. The love I have for my children was/is more powerful than any emotion I’ve ever experienced. The thought of anyone hurting them has an enormous effect on me as a mother. The knowledge that I ended the life of my child is difficult to manage emotionally. I have struggled over the years with being extremely hard on myself & emotionally beating up on myself. On the outside I don’t think anyone would see that. I look like I have it “together.” However, it is a battle that I have to be very intentional about. Regret is a crippling state of mind.

Others reported self-destructive behavior including suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.

“I died with every abortion. I became very angry, depressed, and ended up becoming a drug addict and an alcoholic,” one respondent said.

What did the authors say?

In the study, the authors noted that the women’s responses “were far from simple, echoing themes that are not reflective of contemporary feminist rhetoric.”

“Women generally did not speak of empowerment, the ability to control their reproductive destinies, liberation from abusive partners, the need for abortion in order to be competitive in the workplace, etc,” they noted. “To the contrary, in response to the inquiry regarding any positives that emerged, many women (nearly 32%) expressed no personal benefits of the experience.”

They added: “Scores of others reported spiritual growth, involvement in pro-life efforts, and reaching out to other women who were considering the procedure or had obtained an abortion. Such positives were not immediately realized in most cases, but rather arose from excruciating psychological distress and suffering over many years, even decades.”

The authors wrote that since respondents in the survey were “self-selected,” the results “cannot be generalized to the average woman seeking an abortion in the U.S.”

In a news release, the authors of the study said in a joint statement, “A summary of these data should serve to inform the development of more sophisticated and individualized pre-and post-abortion counseling protocols.” They called for subsequent studies to gain more insight into the emotional effects of the procedure.

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