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Is Post-Abortion Syndrome Real?

In the dystopian world of anti-choice politics, there’s a Holocaust happening in doctor’s offices and women’s uteruses across the nation. Abortion is, to them, a more serious human rights violation than the killing of actual living children, than the suffering children in poverty face, than the painful realities of domestic violence.

Republicans have long struggled to explain why so many women want abortions. After all, it’s simply untenable to acknowledge the roles of unaffordable health care, rape, domestic violence, abusive families, poverty, and the stress of motherhood in abortion.

In one fantasy, women are murderers who should be punished for abortion. Their partners apparently had no role in these miraculous virginal conceptions. In the second fantastical explanation, people who believe in concepts like legitimate rape insist that women are hapless, ignorant victims who don’t really know what they want. We don’t know how our bodies work, you see, and certainly don’t understand that we have alternatives. Give us a few baby clothes and that’s all we’ll need to care for a child from birth through 18! Better yet, adopt that baby out to a Christian couple. The mother’s feelings don’t matter once the baby is gone.

The concept of post-abortion syndrome derives from this second approach. Women are victims. They are weaklings forced into abortion by uncaring partners, and Republicans completely ignorant of even basic reproductive biology have assigned themselves the task of educating us about the agony of post-abortion syndrome. Abortion clinics are trapped in the crosshairs with abortion clinics from rural Georgia to uber-liberal abortion clinics in San Francisco stuck telling women that, no, abortion won’t actually ruin their lives.

So is post-abortion syndrome real? Is the pro-choice movement denying an epidemic of abortion-induced mental health problems. Not a chance.

What the Research Says About Post-Abortion Syndrome

The American Psychological Association has no official position on abortion, endeavoring instead to provide people with comprehensive and reliable mental health information. Its Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion set out to assess the mental health effects of abortion. The Task Force concluded that there is no credible evidence that abortions cause women any specific mental health problems, and no research to support the existence of so-called post-abortion syndrome.

What they found instead is that the circumstances that lead women to abortion are what contribute to mental health problems after abortion. In other words, women already living in poverty, facing domestic violence, or concerned about their futures are more vulnerable to mental illness both before and after abortion. This supports the pro-choice position that sometimes women’s life circumstances are simply not conducive to good mental health or effective parenting.

So why do so many people believe in post-abortion syndrome? What about all those studies? The APA’s task force found that each of the study had serous methodological flaws. In some cases, these flaws were due to deliberate attempts to bias the results.

What About Women Who Grieve Their Abortions?

Women can and do feel bad about their abortions. Some even develop depression. Denying their suffering is not feminist, and certainly not pro-choice. Pro-choicers support women’s health and welfare, and the movement to keep abortion safe and legal does not depend on abortion causing no problems in any woman. After all, as many as a third of women suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after giving birth. That’s a significantly higher trauma rate than even anti-choicers say is associated with abortion, and no one thinks childbearing should be illegal.

Suffering painful emotions after an abortion is just not the same as a post-abortion syndrome. Women also become sad and anxious after divorces—including divorces they wanted, including divorces from abusive spouses, including divorces that may have saved their lives or their children’s well-being—but no one calls this post-divorce syndrome. It’s simply a reaction to the circumstances surrounding a stressful life event. Women deserve help after all stressful life events, but telling a woman that a single choice she made is the source of her psychological suffering is abusive.

This false concern about women’s welfare is just one of many ways anti-choicers co-opt feminist rhetoric for their own ends. Their concern for women ends as soon as a woman agrees not to get an abortion. That’s why these are generally the same folks who believe poor women should get no welfare and the government should not fund or regulate health care. Don’t be fooled. Anti-choicers don’t care about the suffering of women any more than they care about the lives of children after they are born.

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