After Abortion: Can I Know What to Expect?

Did you know that April is Abortion Healing Recovery Month?

As we come to the end of this month, we take this opportunity to acknowledge those who have experienced emotional pain related to their abortion(s). While individual experiences are unique and varied, many women report feelings of sadness and grief connected to their abortion(s). This month, we take the time to acknowledge and offer support.

Research: After-Abortion Satisfaction Rates

A new study by Reardon and Rafferty (1) surveyed 1,000 women regarding whether or not they had a history of abortion and collected their self-reports regarding perceived satisfaction rates for their abortion. Respondents were United States residents between the ages of 41-45. The study aimed “to utilize more sensitive scales in accessing decision satisfaction and the associated mental health outcomes women attribute to their abortions.”

In the 2023 Reardon and Rafferty study:

  • 33% reported the abortion as “wanted.” 
  • 43% reported the abortion as inconsistent with their values or preferences.*
  • 24% reported the abortion as “unwanted” or “coerced.”* 

*The second and third groups also attributed negative emotions and mental health outcomes to their abortions. 

Previously, a report based on the Turnaway Study (2) concluded that 99% of women reported satisfaction with their abortion decision. This study is often referenced to claim a high purported satisfaction rate among women who experienced abortion. However, one criticism of this study is that it relied on a single yes/no assessment of participants’ decision satisfaction. This type of over simplistic assessment tool becomes faulty when used to evaluate difficult and complex decisions and experiences.

This method of assessment cannot properly provide space for the complicated trajectory of emotions which may follow a person who has chosen abortion. For example, a person might feel a decision was right for them while still feeling pain and grief associated with that decision.

Increasingly, there is a move to apply the lens of Moral Injury to abortion. According to the Moral Injury Project (3), Moral Injury (MI) “is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress one’s own moral beliefs, values, or ethical codes of conduct.” Although primarily applied to combat veterans, MI serves as a useful tool for other topics, including abortion. “MI almost always pivots with the dimension of time,” as do many women’s responses to their abortion experience(s). As we continue to grow and learn, our opinions and emotions, by necessity, evolve. 

A woman’s perspective might change throughout the course of her life. For example, a pregnant woman may choose to have an abortion while believing that her 8-week pregnancy involved “just a clump of cells.” Later in her life, she may go on to study embryonic development and learns that the same 8-week pregnancy she terminated had all the major organs and body systems in place, already had hands, feet, and visible eyes and ears. She concludes it was not just a “clump of cells”. This discovery would be an enormous shock to her belief system and to her emotional state. Some women report encountering such a shock when they are later pregnant with planned children and begin to examine, for the first time, all the stages of fetal development. This newfound knowledge now requires an adjustment to her understanding of the abortion procedure and may result in a strong emotional reaction. 

Another example we often see is from women who have chosen abortion as they were told not to worry, “You’ll have other children.” Some of these women find they are unable to experience another pregnancy and the aborted pregnancy was, in fact, their only chance to have a child. 

These are both examples of women whose abortions may have fit into the “wanted” category. Many will go on to feel sadness and grief while, at the same time, concluding that their abortion decision was right for them. This negative impact may be compounded for someone who made the decision to abort under pressure or against her own wishes. Accordingly, a more detailed and nuanced approach is necessary when assessing and addressing emotional distress related to abortion. 

Complex Emotional Reactions to Abortion

A 2015 study (4) by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health found the majority of women reported the decision was “right for them.” However, from this same sample, 41-66% reported high levels of regret, 64-74% sadness, 53-63% guilt and 31-43% reported anger. Emotions can be very complicated, and people can still experience grief and distress around a decision they believed to be right. 

It’s also important to acknowledge the pressure many women report as influencing her decision to have an abortion. Should women not be allowed the opportunity to report the full range of emotions (including negative emotions) surrounding a decision for abortion? For many people, abortion is not an easy decision, and it is time we allow women to have access to an honest and nuanced discussion of the emotional aftermath following their abortion(s).

Not everyone has the same story, which is why we must make space for narratives that may not fit into our expectations for someone who is post-abortive.

What to Expect After Abortion

Can a person know what to expect after an abortion? The answer is both no and yes. No, because everyone’s life and story is so unique. Yes, because there are some common threads throughout various after-abortion studies.

How one person responds to her abortion may not be the same as someone in a completely different circumstance. To provide a cookie-cutter response such as, “This is what you will feel and why,” is irresponsible. As we explore the research surrounding common reactions of those experiencing abortion, we discover some common possibilities of what a woman might experience. If a woman is considering abortion in regards to an unplanned pregnancy, she ought to be informed of the possible feelings of regret, sadness, guilt, or anger, as they are highly reported even among women who felt they made the right choice for themselves. She ought to know that the risk of such feelings is higher among those who do not feel confident in their abortion decision, those who feel it is inconsistent with their beliefs or make the decision as a result of external pressures.

Another notable data point, also from the Reardon and Rafferty study, shows that 60% of the women surveyed reported that they would have preferred to give birth if they had received either more emotional support or had more financial security.

When a woman is facing a pregnancy decision, she ought to have adequate support to continue her pregnancy if she chooses. Abortion is legal and accessible in Massachusetts; however, if a woman would prefer to give birth, she should be offered the resources to empower her in that choice. At Clearway, our patient advocates work closely with each of our clients to get them connected to the necessary resources to thrive in their pregnancy and beyond. Each client receives a customized referral list for resources in her local area and ongoing check-ins after her appointment to see if any of those needs have changed. 

After-Abortion Resources

For those with a history of abortion, we have resources available. Specifically, ClearPast is a program of Clearway Clinic offered to anyone experiencing abortion-related emotional pain. ClearPast’s programs include 11-week group classes and 4-day healing retreats. We also offer individual sessions with a team member for anyone experiencing intense and immediate emotional pain. By confronting the abortion wound and taking intentional steps toward healing, those experiencing abortion pain can find release and freedom through our faith-based programs. You are not alone.

If you would like to learn more about our services, including pregnancy confirmation and after-abortion support, click the icon at the bottom of the screen and start chatting with one of our team members. 

Reviewed by Amy G., L.I.C.S.W.

  2. Foster DG: The Turnaway Study: ten years, a thousand women, and the consequences of having–or being denied–an abortion. Scribner, 2020.
  4. 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, 10:e0128832. 10.1371/journal.pone.0128832

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