Abortion (the medical termination of pregnancy) is an elective procedure intended to terminate an unplanned pregnancy. There are two main categories of abortion methods: medication abortion and surgical abortion. According to a 2013 study, women’s reasons for seeking abortions fell into 11 broad themes. The primary themes included financial reasons (40%), timing (36%), partner-related reasons (31%), and the need to focus on other children (29%). 64% of women reported multiple reasons for choosing abortion, demonstrating the interrelated factors leading women towards terminating unwanted pregnancies.
All of these reasons sound familiar, right? How often have you heard someone say, “I just can’t afford a baby right now,” or “I don’t know how I could handle another child.”
Raising children, though a great blessing, is not easy. The thought of bringing a child (or another child) into this world overwhelms many women. Even so, while abortion aims to solve the problem of an unexpected pregnancy, it sometimes leaves another (also unexpected) set of problems behind.
After Abortion: Back to Normal?
Many women have concerns regarding their physical health following an abortion. Will everything be the same as before? Are there any major risks? Can I get pregnant again if I want to? Whenever you have a medical decision in front of you, it’s important to make that decision from the position of informed consent. This means your provider has educated you on all you need to know about the risks, benefits, and alternatives of a given procedure (1).
Abortion is a medical procedure with varying possibilities of physical and emotional risks and side effects. You should be aware of these as you make your pregnancy decision. It’s important to know 1) what to expect and 2) how to take care of yourself after an abortion. Before you meet with an abortion provider, make sure you prepare questions regarding the procedure, short-term and long-term risks, and any other information you want to know.
(The below information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace advice from a medical provider.)
Physical Health After Abortion
Taking care of your body after an abortion procedure (whether you took the abortion pill or had an abortion via surgery) involves two things: allowing your body to recover and knowing warning signs of complications.
To support your body’s recovery, you should:
- Drink clear fluids
- Eat healthy foods
- Get plenty of rest
- Avoid strenuous exercise (for at least one week)
- Avoid lifting heavy objects (for at least one week)
- Take any antibiotics prescribed to you (for the recommended time)
- Avoid inserting anything vaginally (for at least two weeks)
Some signs of complications include:
- Heavy bleeding or passing large blood clots (larger than a golf ball)
- Bleeding for more than 14 days
- Fever over 100 degrees
- Intense abdominal pain (worse than a normal period)
- Signs of infection (body aches, general feeling of illness, etc.)
- Vomiting (for more than 4 hours)
- Sudden abdominal swelling or rapid heart rate
- Unusual vaginal discharge that is heavy and/or has a foul odor
- Pain, redness, or swelling around your genitals
Whew, that was a lot! If it feels overwhelming, take a second to catch your breath. Even though complications don’t always happen, you should know the risks. Take care of your recovering body and seek medical attention if necessary.
Emotional Health After Abortion
Research suggests that an abortion decision can also have mental and emotional impact, though the impact itself is often debated. Some people emphasize the risk abortion presents for mental health; others emphasize pre-existing risk factors as the key issue (2). While organizations such as the American Psychological Association currently deny a direct link between abortion and mental health issues, even the APA has acknowledged the complex and interrelated risk factors that can result in mental health challenges after abortion (3). One such factor, identified in a 2023 study as associated with a higher risk of negative mental and emotional impact, is pressure to undergo an abortion.
Another 2023 cohort study published in the International Journal of Women’s Health concluded, “A first pregnancy abortion, compared to a birth, is associated with significantly higher subsequent mental health services utilization following the first pregnancy outcome.” This conclusion came from data showing that women with first pregnancy abortions showed higher rates of outpatient mental health visits, hospital inpatient admissions, and hospital inpatient days of stay than women with first pregnancy births (4).
These studies help us observe some links between a history of abortion and increased challenges with mental illness. Not everyone has this experience, and we can’t conclusively measure how much abortion itself contributes to mental health challenges. Still, it is true that abortion is an emotionally difficult experience for at least some people.
After a pregnancy termination, the feelings that many women experience often take them by surprise. This is especially true in cases when they received no preparation for possible feelings of grief related to their abortion (5). Societal minimization or dismissal of any emotional pain following an abortion experience can result in a stigmatization for those who experience it (6). This can inadvertently drive people into deeper secrecy and shame, as well as suppression of such feelings. Sara West and Carol Porter of the Institute of Reproductive Grief describe this Disenfranchised Grief as a loss which is treated as a “non-event.”
Humans are complicated. Emotions can contradict each other, and it’s possible to feel relief and regret about the same choice. If you feel confused by your feelings after abortion, you’re not alone. Some women were considering abortion when they had a miscarriage, and subsequently struggle to comprehend the sadness they feel. Many women report feeling intense guilt and regret after an abortion experience, even when they report feeling it was the right decision (7). For most, the intensity of pain recedes, but thoughts and feelings may linger. Thus, we want to offer education and resources to equip women to navigate any grief, distress, or emotional pain experienced after an abortion experience(s).
Women from a wide range of ages have come to Clearway for support in processing abortion grief. It can affect any area of a person’s life, from relationships to self-worth. Women who have gone through our healing groups report feeling a lightness and freedom from a burden they didn’t even realize they had been carrying. Below are a few after-abortion support resources for you to get started.
Your Abortion Experience is an online platform that provides space to anonymously share your abortion story and read those of others. It also identifies healing pathways and ways to access help. If you’re not ready to share your abortion story with someone who knows you but it is weighing heavy on you, this anonymous platform could be a good stepping stone.
Support After Abortion is a nonprofit organization that provides individualized abortion recovery care. They offer program options so you can choose healing according to your lifestyle, schedule, and beliefs. Through these programs, people hurting from a past abortion experience can break free from negative emotions related to their abortion experience.
If you are experiencing abortion-related emotional pain, we are here for you. Clearway’s After-Abortion Care Programs include one-on-one meetings for those currently experiencing acute emotional distress, 11-week group classes for women seeking healing from abortion-related emotional pain, and 4-day weekend healing retreats. These programs are a safe and confidential space for you to process your pain with support from our team. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, you are not alone. Schedule an appointment to medically confirm your pregnancy and get connected to any resources you need. We are here for you!
Reviewed by Amy G., L.I.C.S.W. & Maya H., RN BSN
- Journal of Psychiatric Research; October, 2008; Induced abortion and anxiety, mood and substance disorders: Isolating the effects of abortion in the national comorbidity survey; Coleman, Coyle, Shuping, Rue
- Journal of Medical Ethics; August 28, 2012; Abortion and Regret; Greasley, K.
- Rocca CH, Kimport K, Roberts SC, Gould H, Neuhaus J, Foster DG. Decision Rightness and Emotional Responses to Abortion in the United States: A Longitudinal Study. PLoS One. 2015 Jul 8;10(7):e0128832. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128832. PMID: 26154386; PMCID: PMC4496083.
Please Note: Clearway Clinic does not provide, prescribe, or refer for abortion.