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Health & Pregnancy

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Abortion Impact: Long-Term Stress?

Study Shows Stress and Anxiety From Abortion Up to 5 Years Later

Debate Over Abortion Stress

The debate over the emotional impact of abortion is a contentious one, with pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates not surprisingly having very different views of the issue.

Some people contend that a form of posttraumatic stress is common among women who have had elective abortions. But neither the American Psychological Association nor the American Psychiatric Association officially recognizes such a syndrome.

University of California, San Francisco psychiatry professor Nancy Adler, PhD, conducted some of the first studies on the psychological impact of abortion. She says it would be impossible to do a study that definitively answered the question.

"You would have to assign women with unwanted pregnancies to either have an abortion or give birth, and that would never happen," she tells WebMD.

"There is no denying that the experience of unwanted pregnancy is very stressful for most women, and so is the decision about what to do about it. But we are not seeing evidence of long-term trauma at the clinical level."

Yale University psychiatry professor Kimberly Yonkers, MD, agrees. She points out that both groups in the study showed improvements over time in most measures of psychological stress. She also expressed concerns about the study's small sample size but said one of the study's strengths was that it followed the women for so long.

"I don't think it is much of a surprise that there was residual guilt and shame following the voluntary termination of a pregnancy," she says. "This is not the kind of thing that someone does and never thinks about again. But I don't believe in postabortion syndrome because I haven't seen it. And I don't think these data show it in any way, shape or form."

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