Post-Abortive Psychiatric Disorders


Abortion does exacerbate existing psychiatric disorders, but it is not often realized that abortion also causes new psychiatric disorders that did not exist before the abortion.  Virtually all Christian counselors working in this field can attest to the fact that most women experience mild to severe psychiatric disorders after an abortion.

Mild and Moderate, Most Common Reactions

During the 1960s, a person suffering the less severe post-abortion reactions would most likely have been diagnosed with a neurosis. Around the turn of the century the mother who is experiencing the less severe reactions from abortion is sometimes said to be suffering from Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS) or Post Abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS). In more recent times, some contemporary mental health professionals use the term Abortion Trauma Syndrome (ATS) which we prefer over PAS or PASS. ATS reactions are a reasonably expected response to abortion.  

Profound Reactions

Compared to the above-mentioned milder ATS reactions, the profound reactions are much more debilitating because they are actual psychiatric diagnoses.  We all know the difference between a light rain and a hurricane. The severity of post abortion reactions combined with the total accrued symptoms bombarding the mother distinguishes the mild from the profound reactions.  These profound psychiatric disorders along with the lesser ATS symptoms keep many in isolation, which further exacerbates the suffering they endure.

Co-occurring with abortion are its most common psychiatric disorders, which are either exacerbated or caused by the mother's abortion. These are prolonged grief disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55). In Heaven there is no sting. Unfortunately for the post-abortive, the death of their child can sting like a swarm of bees. We have worked with hundreds of women over our 25 years in post-abortion ministry. The majority suffer from a condition called Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (PCBD). As we will soon see in the following sections, the trauma causes many mothers to suffer from post-abortion PCBD along with its most common comorbid psychiatric disorders. Many experience major depressive disorder, PTSD, substance use disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, and suicidality. Yes some grieve so much they are tempted with suicide. 

Major Depressive Disorder

Abortion can create depression through physiological, psychological, and spiritual precipitants. Post-abortive depression nearly always includes at least some of the following:  sadness, boredom, despondency, fatigue, anger, concentration difficulties, weight, or sleep problems, crying or being on the verge of tears, loneliness, low motivation, apathy, guilt, despair, discouragement, negativism, defeatism, focus on morbidity, sadness, hopelessness, and/or helplessness, and suicidal thinking. It does not help that depression often robs the person suffering from the energy sorely needed to get out of it.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

Although abortion can cause PTSD, sometimes its symptoms don't reach the threshold to be a diagnosable disorder, in which case they fall under ATS. Still, even experiencing some of these symptoms can be very distressing.  Nevertheless, some women actually develop PTSD as a direct consequence of their abortion. Many who experienced an abortion also experience enough PTSD diagnostic criteria to get the diagnosis.

Substance Use Disorder 

Because the mother cannot escape an indescribably horrible abortion experience, many self-medicate their pain away with drugs and alcohol.  Although their bodies remain present, their minds and emotions have gone to a dysfunctional happy place because they have chemically activated the brain's reward system.  

One of the great dangers of abortion is self-medication with alcohol and drugs. Many troubled by abortion self-medicate and become heavy drug and/or alcohol users. Self medicating is, indeed, a major problem among women with a history of abortion. In this section, alcohol will be used to illustrate, but everything stated here equally applies to all the other mind-altering drugs.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety starts during the crisis pregnancy and worsens after the abortion.  Her stream of consciousness is infected with debilitating worry and fear. Post-abortion anxiety causes the mother excessive distress and impairment.  Her anxiety is irrational and out of control. With low-level anxiety, it's irritating, but when anxiety becomes diagnosable, it steals her interior peace.  She experiences anticipatory anxiety over imaginary future events and then she overreacts.  Her mind becomes obsessed with these negative expectations. If there were twenty-five possible futures, her mind would automatically focus on the worst-case scenario. Some abortion anxiety is so overwhelming it can't be shut off.  

One consequence is that the mother thinks that her deceased baby hates her and can never forgive her because the child perpetually suffers in hell and it's her fault. Some conclude their child may be in heaven but that they will never meet their baby, because they see themselves as unredeemable and going to hell. Even worse, the mother may worry that later pregnancies will be cursed and born children will become ill as punishment from God because of her abortion. If by random chance she becomes infertile, this confirms her misperception that God is punishing her.  She worries that her family, friends, and the people at church will discover her secret abortion.  Her anxiety may even spill over into horrible and disturbing night terrors.  Though rare, some women think their aborted baby is a ghost haunting them.  She has apprehension about going to Church or approaching God. Her fears activate her fight or flight system, and unfortunately, she often runs away from God.

Suicide and Abortion 
Sometimes, suicide is triggered by events such as personal loss. Abortion is a profound personal loss. Also the incidence of suicide increases with disorders like prolonged grief, depression, post traumatic stress, substance abuse, and anxiety which are common to post abortion.