Studies - General Research

Pro-choice Researchers Acknowledge Existence of Post Abortion Syndrome (AGP,8/2000)

Researchers writing in the Archives of General Psychiatry [Aug 2000] have acknowledged that some women experience post-abortion syndrome (PASS). The research team, led by Dr. Brenda Major, diagnosed PASS among 1.4 percent of a sample of women who had abortions two years previously.

“Even at the low rate identified in this study, the impact is tremendous,” said Dr. Vincent Rue, who first proposed PASS as a variant of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 1981.

“With 40 million abortions since 1972,

this would translate into 560,000 cases of PASS.” 

[581,000 cases as of  1/2004]

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.

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 post-abortion problems, ” said Rue, “it is likely that many of these women are having post-abortion symptoms that simply fall short of full-blown PAS.”

Dr. David Reardon, who directs a post-abortion research & education organization, the Elliot Institute, notes: “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…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 research.”

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, Söderberg’s research team noted that over 70 percent stated that they would never consider an abortion again if they faced an unwanted pregnancy.

Majors 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.”

(August 24, 2000) Contacts:
a) Dr. David C. Reardon, Elliot Institute, (217) 525-8202;  b) Dr. Vincent Rue, Institute for Pregnancy Loss, (603) 778-1450
c) Dr. Brenda Major, [email protected], Dept. of Psychology, U of CA, Santa Barbara
Studies Cited:     a) 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. Full text: http://archpsyc.amassn.org/issues/v57n8/full/yoa8222.html
b) 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. c) 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.

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