Tuesday, March 27, 2012


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The Emotion Behind Abortion

In the past few years, a new question concerning abortion has surfaced.

It is the the question of whether or not abortion and severe psychological

disorders are linked. This question has added to the controversial debate over

abortion issues. Prior research has been “motivated by theory or political

ideology” (Cohen, 140). Many studies have been biased due to the

pre-conceived notions and values of the researchers. Proponents and

opponents of abortion have presented different arguments, backed by research,

about whether or not mental health problems develop due to the decision to

terminate a pregnancy. Most studies have concluded that chosen abortion is not

found to be associated with psychological disorders, but there are a few that

have found abortion to contribute to severe depression, severe guilt, suicidal

thoughts, extreme anxiety, intense rage, and passivity. This constellation of

symptoms has been called “post-abortion syndrome” (Costa, 11). Obviously,

abortion is a very emotional experience due to the fact that child-bearing is an

inherent part of a female’s role in society. Although post-abortion syndrome may

exist, there is much evidence supporting the claim that abortion has no long term

mental effects.

Almost 1 1/ million American women each year undergo this surgical

procedure (Cozzarelli, 454). Almost half of all pregnancies are unplanned,

although unwanted pregnancy is not an uncontrollable life event (Major, 587). It

is clear that women respond to abortion with a range of different reactions. A

few studies have looked at self-efficacy, social support, social conflict, and

self-esteem, as these all play either a positive or negative role in coping.

Terminating a pregnancy can be a negative experience for many women.

Both self-efficacy and self-esteem serve as factors in coping with negative life

events. Self-esteem is defined by confidence and satisfaction with oneself. In a

study conducted by Cozzarelli, Sumer, and Major (18), it is hypothesized that

women with a “positive model of self would report higher feelings of self-efficacy”

when dealing with abortion than those with a negative model. They proposed

that self-efficacy would act as the mediator of the model of self and post-abortion

adjustment. They also hypothesized that women who were secure with their

well-being as a whole would feel that their partner was supportive. This support

that came from the partners would act as the mediator between the effects of

“mental models on post-abortion and positive well-being”. Concerning social

conflict, they predicted that women with a sense of security would not sense

tension and conflict with their partners and this would act as the mediator

between “the effects of mental models on post-abortion distress”.

The 615 women who participated completed detailed questionnaires,

medical history forms, and met with counselors individually and then in groups of

five or six. Those who agreed to do so filled out another procedural

questionnaire after they had gone through all other steps mentioned above.

After the thirty minute recovery period, another questionnaire was handed out.

Only twenty seven percent of the women showed up for their follow-up visit and

were again asked to fill out a questionnaire. Those who did not show up were

asked to mail in their follow-up questionnaire or were interviewed by a

cpounselor at an agreed upon place. The women who participated in the

follow-up study received twenty dollars.

The results concluded that 40% of the women felt secure, % felt fearful,

1% felt dismissing, and % felt preoccupied (458). They also found that the

women had a more “positive model of self” than of others. The model of self and

self-esteem were positively correlated with post-abortion positive well-being and

they were both negatively correlated with post-abortion distress. Their study

revealed that the women with “a positive model of self reported higher levels of

self-efficacy for coping with abortion” (45) than those with a negative one.

Those women with a sense of security reported that their partners provided

positive support and together, they experienced the least conflict, which also

was hypothesized. Thus, the results conjured that the model of self was far

more important when it comes to coping with abortion than the model of others.

Another study conducted by Major, Mueller, and Hildebrandt (185)

examined two important factors that previous research had yet to explore. They

looked to see the degree to which the pregnancy was intended, and whether or

not the woman was accompanied by her partner to the abortion clinic. They

state that no one had examined the effect of actual physical presence of the

partner. The 47 women who participated, 8 of which were accompanied by

their partner, all aborted using the vacuum aspiration method within the first

trimester of their pregnancy. All the women were asked to fill out a

questionnaire, answering questions concerning the person or source of blame

for the pregnancy. They met with counselors in small groups to discuss issues

like birth control and reproduction. It was taken into account whether or not the

patient was accompanied by a partner. After the thirty minute recovery period

was over, they were given the coping measures in small groups. The study

followed the same guidelines as the previous, bringing the women back for a

follow-up questionnaire.

The results displayed that most of the women chose not to place the

blame on “certain attribution categories” at all. Among the women, 65% did not

blame another person, 4% did not blame their character, 4% did not blame

any aspect of the situation, 1% did not blame chance (50). The women who

chose to place the blame on an attribution category tended to place the blame

on the lack of birth control availability. Those women who did blame their

pregnancy on their characters dealt with coping worse than those who did not.

Thus, women who blamed themselves were more depressed, expected negative

consequences, and were found to experience more negative moods.

Contradicting to what they hypothesized though, the women who were

accompanied by their partners to the clinic coped with the experience worse

than those who were not accompanied (5). They assumed that if the male

partner accompanied these women, there would be a better chance of coping

positively and quickly.

The study conducted by Cohen and Roth (184) follows the theory that

“approach” and “avoidance” are the primary differences in coping styles.

Avoidance would be characterized by avoiding the entire situation completely,

for example, not talking about it or keeping oneself from getting upset when the

issue is brought up. Approach would be characterized by talking about it or

thinking of ways to improve the situation. Cohen and Roth feel that avoidance

strategies are useful because they reduce distress and anxiety whereas

approach strategies “allow for appropriate action and for ventilation of affect


The 55 women who took part in the experiment all used the dilation and

evacuation method and all of the termination’s were done within the first

eighteen weeks of the pregnancy. Again, all of the women were asked to fill out

questionnaires before the abortion and five hours after the recovery period. The

time between entering the clinic and the actual procedure, besides a pelvic

exam, was spent in small groups of counseling.

Their results differed slightly from those of the studies previously

mentioned. They found that when the women entered the clinic, a large majority

felt distressed, anxious, depressed, and reported a sense of denial. But from the

time that they entered the clinic, to the time they entered the recovery room, their

distress decreased. In regards to their theory, they concluded that none of the

women could be defined as either “approachers” or “avoiders”. That is, none of

the women avoided the fact of the abortion but none of them tried to improve the

situation by thinking of different ways or talking about it. They found that the use

of approach strategies was associated with a decrease of anxiety (144).

Meg Gerrard (177) studied “sex guilt” among abortion patients in a

college community, which Mosher and Cross define as “a personality disposition

that is manifested by resistance to sexual temptation, inhibited sexual behavior,

or the disruption of cognitive processes in sex-related situations”. Gerrard

wished to understand whether or not sex guilt is related to unplanned

pregnancy. She administered a sex guilt test made by Mosher (171) to a group

of abortion patients and to a group of non-pregnant, sexually active women.

These two sets of scores were then compared with one another. She discovered

that the abortion patients had significantly higher sex guilt than the non-pregnant

women. She then broke everyone into five groups according to the methods of

contraception, and the sex guilt scores for the women in the abortion group were

much higher than those of the non-pregnant group. The results of her study

simply prove that abortion patients have higher sex guilt than sexually active,

non-pregnant, college women (708).

Russo and Zierk (1) followed a group of women over the course of

eight years for their research. This study was unique in that it included a large,

nationally representative sample of women in conducting this research. They

explored the question of whether or not well-being is directly related to abortion

and if elapsed time since the abortion changes the correlation between the two.

They conducted their study between the years of 17-187, when abortion was

legal in the United States. Interviewed were 5,5 women all between the ages

of -0, while careful calculations were taken in two year intervals. The women

answered a number of questions concerning the number of abortions they had ,

their age at their first abortion, and their age at their last abortion. They were

also asked about previous pregnancies and births and whether or not they were

wanted, whether or not they had children at the time, and the number of

unwanted births. Women were then asked about their well-being by agreeing or

disagreeing with statements like “I am a person of worth” and “I am as capable

as others” (71).

Their results answered the questions posed earlier. They found that the

well-being of women who had abortions was not less than that of women who

had not. In fact, the self-esteem score in 187 that was calculated at the end of

the study was higher among the women who had an abortion. They concluded

that having had one abortion was positively related to higher global self-esteem,

namely feelings of self-worth, the feeling of being capable, and not feeling that

one is a failure. Concerning the women who had repeat abortions, their level of

self-esteem was lower than that level of the women who had only one abortion.

Women who had more than one abortion were more likely to agree with the

statement, “I do not have much to be proud of” but their responses did not differ

with those women who had never had an abortion. The lowest level of

self-esteem came from the women who had unwanted births. Thus, the fact that

positive relationships between abortion and well-being, according to Russo and

Zierk, is due to women having one abortion. (74)

Research also suggests that there are a few groups of women who are at

a higher risk of experiencing emotional problems before and after the

termination of a pregnancy. Those women who have previously experienced

psychological problems are more likely to experience negative effects as well as

younger women, those who lack the steady support of a partner and of family,

those whose decision-process was much more difficult, those who terminate the

pregnancy farther along than suggested or those who intend to be pregnant but

then chose to abort for some reason or the other. Also, women who simply are

not emotionally stable before the abortion takes place are at a higher risk.

(Major, )

In all the research I have read, there is not enough supporting evidence to

conclude that women will experience negative psychological problems after the

termination of their pregnancy. Indeed, the decision is understandably difficult

and the experience itself is a negative aspect of a fundamental need of women

to reproduce. Directly after the procedure, there may be guilt and regret but it is

also, in most cases, quickly realized that the decision was made for a reason.

The answer is still up in the air and research is still being done. In 187, then

President Ronald Reagan appointed C. Everett Koop, the then surgeon general,

to come up with a complete report on the psychological and medical trauma of

abortion. Even he could not come up with a specific answer. “Despite a diligent

review,” he stated, “the scientific studies do not provide conclusive data on the

health effects of abortion on women” (Russo, 1). For younger girls, it may be

a step towards maturity, as they are the only one’s who can make the decision.

In most cases, no one else is going to make it for them. For some women, it

could give them a hold on their life, a sense of control. And for many, I think

relief would be the after affect. Every woman is different and every woman’s

experience is going to differ, no matter what research says. I feel it is the type of

woman you are mentally and the given situation you are in that is the deciding

factor of how well you handle the procedure of abortion.

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