Abortion's "Psychological Trauma"?

This is part one in a series of blogs on Initiated Measure 11–another attempt at a sweeping abortion ban in the State of South Dakota.

This afternoon, while perusing the latest MSNBC-approved headlines, I came across this Reuters article: “One abortion no threat to mental health.”

Women who have a single abortion do not have a higher risk of mental health problems such as depression than women who have their babies, the American Psychological Association reported on Wednesday.

A panel appointed by the group representing psychologists found no credible evidence that having one elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy causes mental health problems for adult women.

I had been thinking about the so-called “psychological trauma” that abortion ban advocates have used as a tool in their fight against women’s right to choose. Ten years after I freely elected to have this procedure, I have come to the realization that this trauma may exist for some women, but for many (including myself, at the time) I believe the so-called “trauma” is associated not so much with the procedure itself, but with the circumstances surrounding the decision:

“The reasons that women most frequently cite for terminating a pregnancy include not being ready to care for a child (or another child) at that time, financial inability to care for a child, concern for or responsibility to others, desire to avoid single parenthood, relationship problems, and feeling too young or immature to raise a child,” [the American Psychological Association] wrote.

However, the so-called “trauma,” in many cases will help the woman to take a look at her situation and realize that changes need to be made–either in terms of her relationship, her financial situation, or her birth control method. This should be considered a positive transformative outcome.

A mentor of mine said to me, after I’d had the procedure and was dealing with the messy breakup of the relationship that I’d been involved in at the time that, “Just because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.” While perhaps not the most eloquent phrasing, I think it speaks to the difficult decision-making process well.

Abortion is common and usually freely chosen by the woman, the report said.

“Approximately half of women in the United States will face an unintended pregnancy during their lifetime, and about half of those who unintentionally become pregnant resolve the pregnancy through abortion,” the report says.

The article also reports that coercion into having the procedure is fairly rare. This final quote really hits the nail on the head for me:

They said women who had mental health problems before becoming pregnant, women who worried about stigma or secrecy or those who had low self-esteem were more likely to develop mental health problems after an abortion.

This tells me not that we need to outlaw abortion, but that we need to be more supportive of and helpful to women in all the situations of life–by letting them make their own decisions to better their lives and the lives of the families they are a part of.

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3 responses

  1. I went against my mom when I was 17 and gave a child up for adoption. My mom begged me to have an abortion. I laid around on a couch for 4 years depressed over the loss of my baby through adoption. I became pregnant irresponsibly a second time and got an abortion. There was no depression, etc, at all. I think the trauma from adoption is way worse than abortion, at least for me it was. I’m pretty offended that there are people who would choose to force a woman into childbirth against her will because they mistakenly believe that would be better for her mental health. I think removing choices and backing someone into a corner is pretty hard on the mental health!

  2. Claire–

    I think coercion in either direction is a dangerous game. Open, honest consideration and discussion of the options is really the best way. I am not only offended, I am disturbed and disgusted by attempts to force women to bear children against their will. Ever read The Handmaid’s Tale?

    Thanks for adding to the discussion. Thank you for sharing your story.

    –Rebecca

  3. Hi,

    I recently found out I am pregnant. It is an unexpected pregnancy that we’re not fully ready for. I”m a very scared of the mental outcome of an abortion because we are able to care for a baby, we just aren’t quite “there” yet – I’m very worried I’ll regret this decision and beat myself up about it. I found your posting helpful and wanted to reach out and thank you for it. It is very difficult to find anyone willing to discuss the outcomes of their abortions even though so many pregnancy’s result in this procedure. I really appreciate your thoughts and like to hear that it’s not all the internet makes it out to be.

    What women really need is reliable sources of information that don’t have a hidden agenda and support groups for after the procedure!

    Thank you

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