Women should be informed of what they are facing before they make a choice to end their pregnancy, have the child taken from their womb, and attempt return to their daily lives. This discussion will show that: a) research showing psychological trauma from abortion is not typically discussed in the literature and in fact is deliberately hidden from women despite the professional codes of ethics; b) ending a pregnancy by way of abortion causes psychological trauma; c) a woman’s post-abortion story is important for healing and helping other women prevent such loss and trauma.
Where is the proof?
When looking for information about post-abortion issues, the search comes up scant. For one group of researchers, although recently some positive changes have been made, the issue of tainted, flawed, and biased research that the American Psychological Association (APA) accepts when it comes to post-abortive women marginalizes the ones who complain of traumatic symptoms. Not only do Lanfranchi, Gentles, and Ring-Cassidy (2013) reveal this bias, they also skillfully demonstrate the outright rejection of any material stating an opposing view to that of the APA that abortion is a relief and has no after effects.
Affidavits of women, which were accepted by courts, have been rejected by APA, even when there have been as many as 1,940 such affidavits. Normally accepted as legal fact, these affidavits declared each woman’s post-abortion story of personal psychological trauma (Lanfranchi et al. 2013). For the APA, it seems that the narrative is only valued when the story shared supports the “correct” conclusion, namely that abortion is a benign experience, and only women who have previous mental problems will exhibit negative sequelae (Lanfranchi et al. 2013).
(Sequelae are any symptoms or conditions that arise out of a previous disease, injury, or attack— in this case—the mother’s abortion).
In their text, Complications: Abortion’s Impact on Women, Lanfranchi et al. (2013) address serious concerns about the lack of proper research and research reporting on post-abortive women’s mental, spiritual, and emotional health that does not agree with the positive concept “that abortion is safe, easy, and uncomplicated.” This means that the women who suffer emotional, psychological and spiritual injury from abortion are not considered by the APA Journals (APA publishes more than 55 journals) (Lanfranchi et al. 2013).
For Canadian women, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) provides ethical guidance for Canadian physicians through their Code of Ethics, requiring physicians to provide “information they (their patients) need to make informed decisions about their medical care, and answer their questions to the best of your (the physicians’) ability” (Canadian Medical Association, 2004). Such information for an informed consent is required for any medical procedure (CMA, 2004). Although this is helpful for women facing abortion decisions, the wording and generality leave much leeway for physician interpretation, and therefore, as Lanfranchi et al. point out, the parameters create difficulties for those wanting to pursue coverage through a lawsuit (2011).
The CMA Code of Ethics is difficult to enforce in three ways:
Abortion Does Cause Psychological Trauma
Despite APA rejecting information with an opposing view, several other groups and researchers have found and published challenges to APA’s stance. These large-group studies and collections of affidavits from post-abortive women demonstrate that abortion causes psychological trauma to mothers. The first study mentioned here was conducted by the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research and the group covered the stories of 101 women:
"The overwhelming force of testimonies from large numbers of post-abortive women continues to challenge the common assumption that induced abortion is safe, easy, and uncomplicated. Among 101 women who told the deVeber Institute their stories, many reported a lack of informed consent and pressure or coercion to abort; moreover, all testified to the devastating impact of abortion in terms of depression, broken partner relationships, and the resort to alcohol and other non-medical substances" (deVeber, 2016).
The second source of opposing results comes from Amicus Curiae briefs, (written legal document submitted to court by another person on behalf of the mother) “that included the very research material dismissed by the APA” (Lanfranchi et al. 2011). Within these briefs, 178 women stated that they all had endured negative consequences from their abortions (Lanfranchi et al. 2011).
In another study conducted by a South Dakota Task Force, Dr. Priscilla Coleman gives testimony to her own 12 studies she and her colleagues had published. Some of the highlights she shared declared how studies who state abortion is not harmful are not properly conducted, that it is not true women after abortion have less risk for mental health problems than those who have never had an abortion, and that:
“Women with a history of induced abortion are at a significantly higher risk for the following problems: a) inpatient and outpatient psychiatric claims, particularly adjustment disorders, bipolar disorder, depressive psychosis, neurotic depression, and schizophrenia b) substance use generally, and specifically during a subsequent pregnancy; and c) clinically significant levels of depression, anxiety, and parenting difficulties” (South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion, 2005).
Further testimony by Coleman stated compared to “unintended pregnancies carried to term and other forms of perinatal loss, abortion poses more significant mental health risks” (South, 2005). She goes on to refute any claim that post-abortion trauma in North America is culturally created and this effect does not happen in other cultures, stating that women in other cultures where abortion is the norm and not viewed as a social aberration, also endure psychological trauma (South, 2005).
Your Story Matters
For post-abortive women, their story does matter. Narrative is the word used for telling about our pain, our trauma, our loss, and grief. A woman’s narrative is important and is real. After reading the research, it sounds as though one could say that almost all women suffer psychological trauma and emotional pain after their abortion. Telling her story will help others help her, will help her grieve, and help her recover. Natalie Faith (2011) talks to post-abortive women in a 100 Huntley Street report now available on YouTube. In The Dark Secret: Life After Abortion, Faith (2011) discusses this ongoing post-abortion emotional pain which the mothers seek to numb. Faith (2011) reports:
“Though they’ve offered help to women for twenty years, she (Jutta Wittmeier, Director of Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre) says few women have the courage to process their grief.” Faith's video (2011) interviews Jenny McDermid, a post-abortion counselor at Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre who says, “Many women who come to see us cannot even say the word. They’ll say ‘the procedure’ or they’ll use the expression ‘the A-word,’ or they can’t even verbalize the word they are so traumatized by it.”
Knowledge is power for these women. They need to know and understand that their story is important. They need the information that has been held back for decades. Helpers—whether physicians, counsellors, ministers, friends or family—need this information as well. The women in this video have shared their story to help others see through the misinformation, disinformation, and hidden information. Some of them explain how difficult it is for them to remember the event, to ask for help, and to share their story with others, but then they testify to how healing it is. If you are a woman who is post-abortive, or you know one, your story matters.
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA Code of Ethics (update 2004). Retrieved November 15, 2004, from https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/policy-research/CMA_Policy_Code_of_ethics_of_the_Canadian_Medical_Association_Update_2004_PD04-06-e.pdf
Chapter 20 Summary: Who are the experts? What 101 women told us. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2016, from http://www.deveber.org/chapter-20-summary-who-are-experts-what-101-women-told-us
Lanfranchi, A., Gentles, I. J., Ring-Cassidy, E., Ring-Cassidy, E., & deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research, (2013). Complications: Abortion's impact on women.
Natalie Faith. 2011, June 29.The Dark Secret: Life After Abortion. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xE2OWkxFylY
South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion. Report of the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion. Submitted to the Governor and Legislature of South Dakota, December 20045: 1-71, pp. 42-43. http://www.dakotavoice.com/Docs/south%Dakota%20Abortion%20Task%Force%20Report.pdf.