Women who have an abortion can suffer mental distress, anxiety, guilt and shame even five years afterwards and sometimes even longer, research has shown. The study compared a group of 40 women who suffered a miscarriage with 80 women who chose to have an abortion, questioning them 10 days, six months, two years and five years after the event.
The team from Oslo University, found that women who had a miscarriage suffered more mental distress up to six months after losing their baby compared with those who had an abortion. But women who had an abortion experienced more mental distress long afterwards – at two and five years – compared with the miscarriage group. The researchers said that women who lost a baby through abortion should be given information about the psychological effects of losing a baby.
Pro-life campaigners said the research confirmed the emotional consequences of having an abortion could be massive.
Women’s health experts highlighted the importance of having proper counselling in place to deal with women having abortions. The latest study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, used tests to measure the extent of intrusive thoughts, feelings and flashbacks about the end of pregnancy. The researchers also assessed how much women avoided thinking, talking or feeling anything about the event. The study found that, after 10 days, 47.5 per cent of women who had miscarried suffered from some degree of mental distress compared with 30 per cent of the abortion group. The proportion of women who had a miscarriage suffering distress decreased during the study period, to just 2.6 per cent at two years and five years. But levels of distress remained high in the abortion group. After two years, 18 per cent were still experiencing distress, with 20 per cent at five years.
High levels of anxiety
The researchers also said that women who had an abortion experienced high levels of anxiety, feelings of guilt, shame and relief. They had to make an effort to avoid thinking about the event. Compared with the general population, these women also had more anxiety even five years after an abortion. The researchers, led by Anne Nordal Broen, said they had predicted that an abortion would cause “a more protracted course of mental disturbance” compared with a miscarriage. “The responses of women in the miscarriage group were similar to those expected after a traumatic and sad life event. “However, the women in the induced abortion group had more atypical responses,” the researchers said. Anna Pringle, from pro-life charity Life, said: “As advocates for these women, we believe it is time that the Government acknowledges the fact that abortion carries with it psychological risks that can affect women long after the actual event.”
Richard Warren, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy were often profound. “Most women who request termination of pregnancy do so after careful consideration and with appropriate counselling,” he said. “It has always been considered, and this study also shows, that the decision to terminate may bring with it long-standing feelings of anxiety and guilt. “While most women are able to manage and cope with these feelings, when necessary, the need for ongoing support and counselling should be recognised and appropriate help given. A spokeswoman for bpas Abortion Care – the leading provider of abortion services in the UK – said: “We don’t see that many women for post-abortion counselling. We offer that service but women very rarely come back because they are able to cope with it by themselves.”
A spokeswoman for the Family Planning Association (fpa), said: “There is no evidence to suggest that abortion directly causes psychological trauma. “Before an abortion, women should be given the opportunity to talk things through if they need to so they can be sure they are making the right decision for them.”