What Is Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome?

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What Is Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome?

Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS)

Post-abortion stress syndrome (PASS) is a constellation of symptoms similar to PTSD that are rumored to happen after a person has an abortion. However, no evidence exists that PTSD-like symptoms are common after abortion, and post-abortion stress syndrome is not recognized as a psychological phenomenon by major mental health organizations.

As the American Psychiatric Association (APA) notes, over 50 years of research points to the fact that there is no evidence mental health issues like PTSD increase after abortions. On the contrary, being denied access to abortions increases mental health issues, harms physical health, and has negative socioeconomic effects.

Suggested Symptoms of Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome

PASS is not a psychological condition identified by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), nor is it recognized by any major health or mental health organizations. In fact, organizations like the American Psychiatric Association and the Center for Reproductive Rights have put out statements explaining that post-abortion stress syndrome is not an actual mental health condition.

The syndrome is mainly shared among anti-abortion groups. Definitions and symptoms of post-abortion stress syndrome vary, but its suggested characteristics usually resemble post-traumatic stress syndrome (PSTD) and include symptoms like:

  • Guilt and regret over having an abortion
  • Feelings of depression and emotional numbness
  • Experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Having flashbacks to the abortion and experiencing nightmares
  • Feeling anxious and hypervigilant
  • Feeling triggered when seeing babies or when your baby’s due date passes

Impacts of Abortion on Mental Health

Abortion is more common than you might realize. 1 in 4 women (or people assigned female at birth) will have an abortion by age 45. Abortion is not without any emotional impacts. Still, there is an abundance of research to show that experiencing an abortion is unlikely to cause serious or long-term mental health impacts. Moreover, the idea that people who have abortions typically experience PTSD-like symptoms is unfounded.

Let’s take a look at what the research says about the mental health impacts of abortion.

Risk of PTSD   

A 2016 study published in BMJ Open looked specifically at the risk of developing PTSD after an abortion. They analyzed a group of 863 individuals within four years after receiving abortion care. Some of these people got abortions, and others did not. The researchers concluded that the risk of developing PTSD was similar among the people who got abortion and the ones who did not. The study researchers’ conclusion is that getting an abortion in and of itself does not trigger PSTD.

Happiness and Emotional Well-Being

Several studies have looked at the emotional impacts of abortion. Does having an abortion make you more depressed? Do you typically experience regret? What does abortion do to self-esteem?

A 2014-study published in Quality of Life Research found no evidence that abortion negatively impacts self-esteem or that it decreases life satisfaction.

Another study, published in 2020 in Social Science & Medicine, found no evidence that people experience negative emotions related to their abortions. This was consistent throughout the five-year period after the abortion. Instead, a large proportion felt confident that their abortion was the right decision for them.

The most prevalent emotion experienced by people who got an abortion was relief.

Risk Factors for Abortion-Related Stress

There are some circumstances where people experience stress and mental health issues related to abortion. However, this is not always related to the abortion itself, and is often related to not getting proper abortion care when needed.

As reported in the Turnaway Study, a large analysis of the impacts of abortion from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California, the following risk factors are linked to an increased risk of depression after an abortion:

  • History of mental health challenges
  • History of child abuse
  • History of neglect
  • History of sexual assault
  • History of intimate partner violence

The Turnaway Study also found that people who wanted an abortion but were denied one were more likely to experience high levels of anxiety and stress, especially at the time that the abortion was denied. But people who were able to obtain abortion care were more likely to experience increased levels of self-esteem as compared to people who were denied care.

Coping With Abortion

Abortion is a complex issue, and it’s common to have many emotions before, during, and after an abortion. You may feel grief, relief, depression, stress, anxiety, or feelings of strength and empowerment.

You may go through more than one emotion at once within a short period. Your hormones also change an abortion, and your body needs time to heal.

It’s important that you have support before and after your abortion. Having a trusted friend or loved one take you to your abortion and stay with you after is invaluable. If you don’t have anyone in your life you can reach out to, there are other ways to receive support.

The following are phone hotlines that offer free post-abortion counseling:

  • Connect & Breathe: 1-(866) 647-1764
  • Exhale: call 1-888-493-0092, or text 617-749-2948
  • First Candle: 1-(800) 221-7437

These websites offer free support for people who’ve had abortions:

Importantly, if you are experiencing depression and anxiety that lasts more than two weeks, or have are having thoughts of suicide or harming yourself, you should seek immediate mental health care.

Crisis Support

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Position Statement on Abortion.

  2. Abrams Z. The facts about abortion and mental health. Monitor on Psychology. 2022;53(6):40.

  3. Abrams Z. The facts about abortion and mental health. Monitor on Psychology. 2022;53(6):40.

  4. Center for Reproductive Rights. Setting the Record Straight: The Facts on Some Popular Myths About Abortion.

  5. American Psychological Association. Position Statement on Abortion.

  6. Guttmacher Institute. Abortion Is a Common Experience for U.S. Women, Despite Dramatic Declines in Rates.

  7. Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health. The mental health impact of receiving vs. being denied a wanted abortion.

  8. Biggs MA, Rowland B, McCulloch CE, et al. Does abortion increase women's risk for post-traumatic stress? Findings from a prospective longitudinal cohort study. BMJ Open. 2016;6(2):e009698. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-009698

  9. Biggs MA, Upadhyay UD, Steinberg JR, et al. Does abortion reduce self-esteem and life satisfaction?. Quality of Life Research. 2014;23:2505–2513. doi:10.1007/s11136-014-0687-7

  10. Rocca CH, Samari G, Foster DG, et al. Emotions and decision rightness over five years following an abortion: An examination of decision difficulty and abortion stigma. Social Science and Medicine. 2020;248:112704. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112704

  11. Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties. Support After a Miscarriage or Abortion.

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a health and parenting writer, lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mom to two awesome sons.