Immediate Release 8/24/00
Pro-choice Researchers Acknowledge Existence of "Postabortion
Syndrome" — Half a Million Affected
Springfield, IL -- Pro-choice researchers writing
in the August issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry have acknowledged
that some women experience post-abortion syndrome (PAS). The research
team, led by Dr. Brenda Major, diagnosed PAS among 1.4 percent of a sample
of women who had abortions two years previously. Critics of abortion
are elated by this admission but insist the researchers have only spotted
the "tip of the iceberg."
"Even at the low rate identified in this
study, the impact is tremendous," said Dr. Vincent Rue, who first proposed
PAS as a variant of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 1981.
"With 40 million abortions since 1972, this would translate into 560,000
cases of PAS."
Rue also notes that many women in the study
reported psychiatric disorders that are less severe than full-blown PAS.
Twenty percent of the women in the Majors study experienced clinical depression.
Also, when asked if they would do it all over again, 31 percent reported
that they would not have chosen abortion or were uncertain. "Since
ambivalence is a good predictor of postabortion problems, " said
Rue, "it is likely that many of these women are having post- abortion symptoms
that simply fall short of full-blown PAS."
Unlike Rue, the Major's research team focused
on the absence of problems among the majority of post-abortive women.
They concluded that "most women do not experience psychological problems
or regret about their abortion two years post-abortion, but some do.
Those who do tend to be women with a prior history of depression."
Dr. David Reardon, who directs a post-abortion
research and education organization known as the Elliot Institute, sees
this association with prior depression as evidence of the need for abortion
providers to provide better screening and counseling. "Clearly, this
study shows that abortionists should be screening for a history of depression,"
he said. "It also confirms a large body of earlier research that
shows that prior psychological problems are more likely to be made worse
by abortion, not better."
Reardon says that Major's study has
merit, but he insists that it is inappropriate to conclude that abortion
is a benign experience for most women. "The biggest shortcomings
of this study are the high dropout and refusal rates," he said. "Even
though women were offered payment to participate, 15 percent of the women
who were initially approached refused to participate, and 50 percent of
those who originally participated refused to participate in follow-up interviews.
Research has found that those women who are most likely to experience negative
post-abortion reactions are also least likely to participate in post-abortion
This criticism is supported by a recent
study which found that women who declined to participate in post-abortion
follow-up interviews most closely matched the characteristics of those
women who experienced the most post-abortion distress. Dr. Hanna
Söderberg, the lead author of that study, reported that "for many
of the women, the reason for non-participation seemed to be a sense of
guilt and remorse that they did not wish to discuss. An answer very
often given was: ‘I do not want to talk about it. I just want to forget'."
Conducting interviews one year after the
abortions, Söderberg's research team found that approximately
60 percent of the women in their sample of 854 women had experienced emotional
distress after their abortions. This distress was classified as "severe,"
warranting professional psychiatric attention, among 16 percent of the
women. In addition, over 70 percent stated that they would never
consider an abortion again if they faced an unwanted pregnancy.
Reardon and Rue agree that several
other findings reported by Major's team also deserve greater attention.
"Major's study clearly demonstrates the presence of delayed reactions,"
Reardon said. "She found that negative feelings and dissatisfaction
with the abortion decision increased with time—even among her final, lower-risk
population. In addition, only a minority of women reported positive
emotions, and on average the women reported no beneficial effect from their
abortions. This general ambivalence about their abortions, combined
with a trend toward increasing negative reactions, contradicts the claim
that abortion is generally beneficial to women."
Though Major and her colleagues focused
mostly on the psychological effects of abortion, they also found that 17
percent of women experienced physical problems such as bleeding or pelvic
infection associated with the abortion. "This rate is much higher
than abortion providers admit," Rue said. "Clinic counselors rarely inform
women of this rate of physical complications."
Major, B., Cozzarelli, C., Cooper M.L., Zubek,
J., Richards, C., Wilhite, M., Gramzow, R.H. (2000). Psychological
responses of women after first-trimester abortion. Arch Gen Psychiatry.
57(8):777-84. The full text is available on
Söderberg, H., Andersson, C., Janzon, L.,
& Sjöberg, N-O. (1998). Selection bias in a study on how
women experienced induced abortion. European Journal of Obstetrics &
Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 77:67-70.
Söderberg, H., Janzon, L., & Sjöberg,
N-O. (1998). Emotional distress following induced abortion: A study
of its incidence and determinants among abortees in Malmo, Sweden. European
Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 79:173-178.