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Safety of Women
WHAT IS POST ABORTION SYNDROME?
Investigators are starting to use the term "post abortion
syndrome" (PAS). J. Denton Collins, a therapist from Canada, describes it
this way: "PAS is a Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) commonly
experienced by women who have had one or more abortions. Through the
process of denial, the woman has blocked the natural grieving process of
the death of her child and often has denied her responsibility in the
abortion. The denial or suppression blocks the healing process and the
possibility of forgiveness of herself and others. The trauma often
manifests itself as a breakdown of function in the psychological,
physical, or spiritual areas."
PAS is a form of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This disorder
describes the dysfunctional adaptation someone experiences when the
painful emotions surrounding a traumatic event have not been processed.
HOW DOES PAS DEVELOP
A woman faced with a crisis pregnancy experiences a
tremendous amount of fear and anxiety about her situation, and she seeks a
fast solution to her dilemma. Since abortion is legally and socially
sanctioned, it is the choice she is likely to make, even though she may be
violating her own moral code in doing so. Immediately after the procedure,
she will usually feel profound relief that the crisis is over, for better
or worse. But any moral struggle she felt prior to the abortion will
resurface eventually, at which point she will question her decision. In
many cases, she may learn more about fetal development, or undergo a
change in moral perspective, which will also lead to uncertainty about her
WHAT ARE SOME SYMPTOMS OF PAS?
Since a woman cannot go back and "undo" the abortion, she
will employ defense mechanism to protect her from uncomfortable or
frightening thoughts and feelings. These defense mechanisms are very
effective in keeping the painful memories away, but they consume a lot of
mental energy as a woman works to ignore powerful emotions. Eventually, if
enough stress enters her life, she may find that she lacks the stamina
both to cope with current stresses and continue repressing "forgotten"
memories. A variety of experiences (such as pictures of prenatal
development, a subsequent pregnancy, or even the whine of a dentist's
drill that resembles the sound of the abortionist's equipment) may trigger
symptoms associated with PAS.
These symptoms will not necessarily appear at the same time, nor is any
woman likely to experience the entire list. Some may occur immediately
after an abortion, and others much later. However, if three or more of the
symptoms listed below describe what you have been going through recently,
chances are you are experiencing PAS.
1. Guilt: Guilt is what an individual feel when she has violated
her own moral code. For the woman who has come to believe, at some point
after the abortion, that she consented to the killing of her pre-born
child, the burden of guilt can be significant.
2. Anxiety: Anxiety is defined as an unpleasant emotional and
physical state of apprehension. Post abortion women with anxiety may
experience any of the following: tension (inability to relax,
irritability, etc.), physical responses (dizziness, pounding heart, upset
stomach, headaches, etc.), worry about the future, difficulty
concentrating, and disturbed sleep. The conflict between a woman's moral
standards and her decision to abort generates much of this anxiety. Very
often, she will not relate her anxiety to a past abortion, and yet she
will unconsciously begin to avoid anything having to do with babies. She
may make excuses for not attending a baby shower, skip the baby aisle at
the grocery store, and so forth.
3. Psychological "numbing": A person who has experienced a highly
painful loss will develop an instinct to avoid future situations that
might lead to serious pain again. Many post-abortion women maintain a
secret vow that they will never again allow themselves to be put in such a
vulnerable position. As a result, without consciously thinking about what
they are doing, they may work hard to keep their emotions on a flat level,
experiencing neither highs nor lows. Not only does this flatness of
emotional experience affect their own outlook, but it greatly hampers
their ability to form and maintain close interpersonal relationships.
4. Depression and thoughts of suicide: Depression is a mood filled
with sadness, guilt and feelings of hopelessness. A more severe and
prolonged depression is characterized by a sense of utter futility and a
complete inability to experience pleasure from any source and may lead to
suicidal ideas. Few post-abortion women reach the point of an overt
clinical depression. Most continue to function and perform the duties of
life, while still experiencing many of the following: sad mood, sudden and
uncontrollable crying episodes, deterioration of self-concept, sleep,
appetite and sexual disturbances, reduced motivation, disruption in
interpersonal relationships, thoughts of suicide or preoccupation with
5. Anniversary syndrome: There tends to be an increase of PAS
syndrome around the time of the anniversary of the abortion and/or the due
date of the aborted child. This phenomenon is reported with some
consistency by women who are experiencing PAS.
6. Re-experiencing the abortion: A very common event described by
post-abortion women is the sudden distressing, recurring flashbacks of the
abortion episode. Sometimes this happens in situations that resemble some
aspect of the abortion. A routine gynecological exam is an obvious
example, but even the suction sound of a household vacuum cleaner, for
example, has reportedly triggered troubling flashbacks. Often, women
re-experience the abortion in the form of recurring nightmares about
babies in general or her aborted baby in particular. These dreams usually
involve themes of lost, dismembered or crying babies.
7. Preoccupation with becoming pregnant again: A significant
percentage of all women who abort become pregnant within one year of their
abortion. The desire to quickly become pregnant again - as soon as
possible - is verbalized often in the counseling room. This may represent
an unconscious hope that a new pregnancy, often called the "atonement
baby" will serve as a replacement for the one that was aborted.
8. Anxiety over fertility and childbearing issues: Some
post-abortion women maintain a fear that they will never become pregnant
again or never be able to carry a pregnancy to term. Some expect to have
handicapped children because they have "disqualified themselves as good
mothers." Those women whose worldview includes a belief in God and divine
accountability will actually verbalize these fears in terms of God
9. Interruption of the bonding process with present and/or future
children: The post-abortion woman may not allow herself to become
properly bonded to another pregnancy because of a fear of loss, as
explained above. Or she may begin another pregnancy intending to be the
world's most perfect mother, in order to make up for aborting the last
10. Survival guilt: Most women do not abort for trivial reasons.
They find themselves in the midst of a heartbreaking situation whereby
they stand to lost much if they choose to carry their pregnancies to term.
In the end, the decision boils down to a sorrowful "it's me or you, and I
choose me". In an attempt to assuage the guilt of being the survivor, some
women will enter a heightened and unrealistic compensation mode whereby
they attempt to atone for their selfish choice. She may keep herself very
busy doing unselfish volunteer work. Indeed, she may become overly zealous
in the pro-life movement. And this, unfortunately, may be the worst
possible place for her to be. If she has not found forgiveness for her own
abortion, she will not likely be able to extend compassion and forgiveness
to anyone else who has aborted a child.
11. Development of eating disorders: Some women seeking
post-abortion counseling have developed eating disorders. While this
phenomenon remains largely unexplored at this time, several factors may
contribute to it. First, a substantial weight gain or severe weight loss
is associated with unattractiveness, which reduces the odds of becoming
pregnant again. Secondly, becoming unattractive serves as a form of
self-punishment and helps perpetuate the belief that she is unworthy of
anyone's attention. Thirdly, extremes in eating behavior (such as bulimia
or anorexia) represent a form of control for the woman who feels her life
is totally out of control. And finally, a drastic weight loss can shut
down the menstrual cycle, thus preventing any future pregnancies.
12. Alcohol and drug abuse: Alcohol and drug use often serve
initially as a form of self-medication - a way of coping with the pain of
the abortion memories. Unfortunately, the mental and physical consequences
of alcohol or drug abuse only amplify most of the symptoms the woman is
13. Brief reactive psychosis: Rarely, a post-abortion woman will
experience a brief psychotic episode for two weeks or less after her
abortion. The break with reality and subsequent recovery are both
extremely rapid, and in most cases the person returns completely to normal
when it is over. While this is an unusual reaction to abortion, it bears
mentioning only because it is possible for a person to have a brief
psychotic reaction to a stressful event without being labeled a psychotic
individual. During such an episode, the individual's perception of reality
is dramatically distorted.