WASHINGTON (BP)–Martha Shuping knows the trauma of abortion.
The Winston-Salem, N.C., psychiatrist recently told the story of a client who was a happily married, stay-at-home mom until she found out she was pregnant with another baby. Her husband said he had no room in his life for another child and asked her to abort the baby. After consulting with their pastor, who supported the husband’s decision, the woman terminated the pregnancy.
“After the abortion took place, my patient became severely depressed, unable to function in her role as a mom and homemaker, and she ended up being admitted to the hospital,” Shuping said. “When I talked to her at the time of admission, she identified the abortion as the cause of her problems.”
Shuping described the incident at an Oct. 9 panel discussion about post-abortion trauma and its effects on women and men. The session, titled “Post-abortion Mental Health Effects, Awareness and Politics,” was held at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.
A recent Elliot Institute poll shows 85 percent of 626 Americans surveyed believe negative emotional problems are common after having an abortion.
“There is little doubt today that we face a crisis of credibility,” said Vincent Rue, director of the Institute for Pregnancy Loss. “If [the] American Psychological and the American Psychiatric Associations can be believed, there is simply no need for this panel today.”
Rue said Planned Parenthood, which describes itself as the leading healthcare provider for women, does not treat women for post-abortion trauma. He also said members of the American Psychological Association task force on abortion report they do not treat clinical patients for such a disorder.
“Who should we believe?” Rue asked.
“The people themselves,” Rue said. “Women and men who know others who have had abortions, and those women and men who have participated in an abortion.”
Priscilla Coleman, associate professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green State University, said abortions worldwide average one per woman and, by the age of 45, more than 35 percent of U.S. women have had an abortion. She also said the identification of risk factors involved in abortions plays a major role in research results.
“Among the most thoroughly substantiated risk factors are the following: low self-esteem, perceptions of the inability to cope with the abortion, emotional investment in the pregnancy, involvement in violent relationships and feelings of being forced into abortion by one’s partner, others, or by life circumstances …,” Coleman said in a written statement.
Shuping said research shows a high percentage of women experience post-traumatic stress after an abortion. Symptoms include trauma, sleep disorders and avoidance of music, places, emotions and thoughts one might associate with having an abortion.
Shuping believes it is not uncommon for women to feel pressured into having unwanted abortions.
“In a 2004 study by Rue and colleagues in Medical Science Monitor, 64 percent of American post-abortive women reported having been pressured in regard to their abortion decision,” Shuping said.
David Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute, believes there is not only a crisis of unwanted pregnancies but also of unwanted abortions.
“It is up to us to prove abortion is dangerous,” Reardon said during the panel discussion, “because the assumption is abortion’s safe ….”
Marjorie Signer, director of communications for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, disagrees with such research, pointing to studies that show minimal if any emotional consequences to women who experience abortion.
Signer said an issue of Archives of General Psychiatry surveyed an estimated 1,200 women over a two-year period to research results of post-abortion effects on women.
“Generally speaking, according to research that appeared in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the overall mental health of these women showed no decline after having the abortion,” Signer told Baptist Press. “As this and other studies show, opponents of legal abortion have very little, if any, statistical backing for the claim that there are dire emotional consequences to women who have abortions.”
Signer said she doesn’t believe it is humane to make women feel remorse and depressed about their decision, because it is personal and difficult.
“Women need support and understanding about what they intend to do,” Signer said. “We support women and men in making the decision that is best for them, and urge them to follow their religious beliefs and conscience.”
Catherine Coyle, co-director of the Alliance for Post-Abortion Research and Training, believes men also battle with post-abortion trauma.
Research conducted by White-van-Mourik questioned 68 men to find results of post-abortion effects on males. Patterns of depression, fear, anger and guilt were found after the two-year study.
“These authors stated that 58 percent of the men were potentially at risk of prolonged or unresolved grief, as they did not discuss their feelings or complaints with anyone,” Coyle said at the FRC event.
Rue believes the trauma of abortion is hard to publicly acknowledge or support.
“The woman or man lose in isolation, dreaded silence,” Rue said. “For such an individual, grief is disenfranchised.”
Rue said it is a common assumption that abortion is an intentional human death event. He believes this can often cause mental health concerns with both women and men.
“Politics attempts to camouflage what the head and the heart know all too clearly,” Rue said. “This is not a wart removal or the moral equivalent of a tooth extraction. If abortion is perceived as violating one’s moral code or religious values, we know it is likely to precipitate significant intra-psychic conflict and present a risk to one’s health.”
Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for Family Research Council, said the Republican and Democratic parties have two different approaches to reduce abortion.
He said the Republican platform has mentioned abortion 15 times as a “fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life,” whereas the Democratic Party strongly supports Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion and a women’s right to choose abortion.
“An analysis of abortion data tends to find that the more restrictive the abortion law, the more likely that abortion rates go down,” McClusky said. “The abortion rate currently in the U.S. is about 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women ….”
Reardon said men and women who have been involved with abortions often feel judged because of the decision they make.
“We’re not throwing stones at people who have abortions,” Reardon said. “We’re concerned about helping them find healing. We’re concerned about helping them find alternatives … that will resonate with those 30 million women and men” who have participated in abortions.
Elizabeth Wood is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.