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What is Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS)?

Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome can be seen as the PTSD of abortion. No matter your religious or political views on abortion, the fact is that women often experience psychological distress following an abortion. This distress can be unexpected and can affect a woman for decades to come. Sometimes, women don't feel distressed until they have a desired pregnancy and give birth. At this time, women can have flashbacks and thoughts about the child they chose not to birth. This distress can also occur no matter what the reason for the abortion was.

What you will learn in this guide:

Why is Abortion so Difficult to Emotionally Process?

Symptoms of Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome

Why Do Women Often Resist Help?

What To Do If You Are Experiencing Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome?

Why is Abortion so Difficult to Emotionally Process?

Pregnancy is a natural occurrence, and a woman's body changes significantly during pregnancy, even very early on. These changes include hormonal changes which prepare a woman to bond with her child. The female brain changes with heightened hormone levels to begin the transformation of becoming a mother. In some cases, a woman may miscarry naturally due to several possible reasons that the pregnancy is not viable. In this case, a woman's body will release additional hormones to dispel the pregnancy and the fetus. This process can be very difficult for mothers.

Abortion, though, is not a natural process and requires medical intervention. If a woman were to continue the pregnancy, it would result in the birth of a child. For this reason, the body and brain do not want to end the pregnancy. They are prepared to continue to grow the baby, bond and attach, nest and prepare your home for them, and continue to hope and dream and what they will be. These are ways your body prepares for a new child. When an abortion occurs, the body does not release hormones to dispel the fetus, but rather it is simply just taken from the mother.

For this reason, the body can experience PTSD symptoms. Trauma is defined as the threat to life or severe injury or witnesses another person's death or severe injury. Abortion is traumatic. It is the death of a fetus that would otherwise be born. Trauma is not something you can brush over and quickly move past. It is a deep wound within a person's body and spirit. Because of this, women can have a challenging time processing an abortion. It can also be difficult for women to discuss their experience of post-abortion stress syndrome symptoms with others. Perhaps they have kept a pregnancy and abortion a secret and don't want to tell anyone, or maybe they were encouraged, and others may not understand. Either way, women can suffer after having an abortion, and they need to have a nonjudgemental space to process their experiences.

Symptoms of Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome

Guilt - Women are genetically designed to protect their children. That basic instinct is short-circuited by abortion. Often when bad events happen in the future, the guilt she feels will cause her to believe that she "deserves" them.

Anxiety - General anxiety is a common symptom of PTSD—in the case of PASS, there might be particular anxiety over fertility issues and the ability to get pregnant again.

Numbness, Depression

Flashbacks - Abortion is surgery, and in most cases, it's a surgery that happens while the patient is fully conscious. This can be a distressing experience.

Suicidal Thoughts - In extreme cases, the PTSD resulting from abortion could lead to suicidal thoughts or tendencies and require immediate treatment. It's important to note that this is not a common or expected symptom of PASS, but it is possible as with any form of PTSD.

Avoiding Children or Pregnant Women - Another common reaction for post-abortive women is to avoid pregnant women or children, especially children around the age their child would have been. They may skip going to baby showers or other events that include pregnant women or children, avoid going down the baby aisle in a store or go out of their way to avoid a playground.

Anniversary Reminders - The anniversary of the aborted child's due date or the date of the abortion can cause horrible feelings for no apparent reason. Sometimes it takes years for a post-abortive woman to realize that these dates are related to her abortion experience.

Wanting to Get Pregnant Again - It is normal to want to get pregnant again after any pregnancy loss, as soon as possible. Some women hope to replace the child that was lost during the abortion. Others do so out of a desire to make sure that they can still have a baby, which can also be due to a fear of infertility, another common reaction after an abortion. Many women fear that they have aborted the only child they will ever have, and others suspect that the abortion could have mutilated their body somehow, possibly causing scar tissue that could cause a tubal pregnancy.

Inability to Bond With Other Children (Present & Future) - Some post-abortive women have guilt that is buried so deeply they don't recognize it as such but unconsciously become emotionally distant from their other children, fearing that they might somehow hurt them. This can also cause a fear that future children will die. This can lead them to overprotect their children at an unhealthy level.

Eating Disorders - Anorexia and bulimia are common eating disorders for women who have had an abortion. These eating disorders for women generally make them think that they can personally regulate their lives, especially when they feel that their lives are out of control. In addition, some post-abortive women may get fat or thin to avoid anyone wanting them on a sexual level, as that could lead to another pregnancy and another pregnancy decision.

Alcohol and Drug Use - Many women who have had an abortion turn to alcohol or drugs as tranquilizers to anesthetize their memories of abortion, keep them at a distance, calm their anxiety, and help them sleep. Sadly, overuse often leads to other problems- mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Why Do Women Often Resist Help?

It can be challenging for women to reach out for help after an abortion. Many abortions are chosen due to an unwanted pregnancy. Women may feel undeserving to grieve the loss of their child because they chose the abortion. Regardless of the reason why you had an abortion, women still experience the same feelings of loss. They can still experience feelings of PTSD.

Women may also resist getting treatment because of shame and can't imagine telling someone about their experience. This shame and guilt can be a significant burden on a woman's shoulders. It can compound, and feeling alone can prevent them even more from getting the help they need to heal.

What To Do If You Are Experiencing Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome

Some women may feel burdened to the point that it affects their ability to thrive individually and in relationships. If you find this is the case with you (or someone you may know), I encourage you to reach out to a therapist. A therapist is an unbiased, nonjudgemental person who wants to walk with you to experience healing from the trauma you have experienced.

I have worked with multiple clients who have experienced Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome. Don't wait any longer to begin your healing journey.


Psychology Today

Chandler Pregnancy Care Center


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