The Dangers Of The ‘Post-Abortion Syndrome’ Myth

By Maria José Durán

After I had an abortion six years ago, I was often asked if I felt guilty. I used to lie and tell people how I shed tears when I saw babies the age my unborn child would be. I felt guilty for not feeling guilty.

The society we live in shames women who voluntarily terminate their pregnancies; it also shames women who refuse to make an ordeal out of it.

There are women who feel sorrow over their abortion; they’re haunted about whether they did the right thing. But there are others, like me, who don’t, and aren’t.

Post-Abortion Syndrome — a form of post-traumatic stress marked by “grief, pain, regret, and denial” — is a fallacious condition used by Crisis Pregnancy Centers (also called Pregnancy Resource Centers) to frighten women into taking their unwanted pregnancies to full term. Despite the fact that this psychological disorder has been long refuted by the medical community and fosters fear and deception, and arguably ruins lives, it remains a potent and ubiquitous tactic.

The California Pro-Life Council, for instance — a nonprofit that features more than 200 CPCs on its website — takes this disorder and its negative effects on women very seriously:

“Denial is one of the aspects of Post-Abortion Syndrome. When memories do begin to come back, there may be dreams of the baby or recollections of the abortion clinic. Often guilt and grief might begin to appear. Depression is one of the first signs, along with anxiety and irritability. The woman may experience emotional numbing (…) There may be withdrawal in a marriage (or boyfriend) relationship (…) Sometimes we see repeated pregnancies, as if the individual is trying to replace the aborted baby. There may be difficulty concentrating, inefficiency in work, and a blunting of memory.”

The California Pro-Life Council attributes this quote to doctor Stephen Edmonson. Besides two years as a U.S. Navy medical officer, Edmonson has no specialty in this in his private psychiatric practice; he has simply “treated many women who have post-abortion problems.”

What that actually means in scientific or psychological terms is nebulous at best; not only isn’t post-abortion syndrome recognized by the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association as an actual disorder, but a 2015 study from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) found that 95% of 1,000 women who sought abortions in 21 different states not only didn’t regret their decision but described profound “relief.”

In fact, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion concluded that external societal factors like “interpersonal concerns, including feelings of stigma, perceived need for secrecy, exposure to antiabortion picketing, and low perceived or anticipated social support for the abortion decision, negatively affected women’s postabortion psychological experiences.”

In short? The choice to terminate a pregnancy does not induce mental harm, but anti-abortion rhetoric, manipulative tactics, and the shame-based climate they create certainly do.

More than 3,000 CPCs are run by religious organizations from coast to coast in the United States; their ‘modus operandi’ is to attract women with purposely deceptive advertising — often appearing to be abortion clinics where they offer free pregnancy tests and counseling — before revealing their true nature and frightening women into questioning a salient decision they’d already made.

The California’s Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, known as Reproductive FACT Act, went into effect on January 1. This state law requires licensed CPCs to post signs in their waiting rooms stating that California offers free programs for family planning and abortion. They are also obligated to provide a phone number for a real abortion clinic. Unlicensed CPCs are additionally required to publicly disclose their lack of an official medical permit in their facilities.

Those clinics that don’t abide by these stipulations are fined $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Five pregnancy centers in California have filed separate lawsuits to deny their clients this information. They argue that the Reproductive FACT Act violates their right to free speech, and that therefore they are protected by the First Amendment. Two cases have been turned down by U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller because the law requires neutral information from all women’s health centers and doesn’t specifically target pro-life-affiliated providers. However, it appears that the judicial fight is not over, as these groups are preparing to elevate their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Perhaps most importantly, the California Reproductive FACT Act also requires pregnancy clinics not to lie about abortion. The information provided concerning the termination of pregnancy must be unbiased and scientifically sound. This might seem obvious, but CPCs deceive women every day about abortion.

When I found out about my unplanned pregnancy, I was 21, still in college, and living with my parents in a small town in Southern Spain. I went to my doctor in our country’s public health system — something unheard of in the United States — and directed my questions to her. My main concern at such a young age was infertility. My doctor’s answer was crystal clear. She told me that my odds were good — despite my pending abortion — to be a mother some day, when I was ready.

Every woman deserves that kind of honest information.

***

The National Center for Biotechnology Information published this study more than 15 years ago that disproves the link between abortion, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy.

“Except in the case where an infection complicates induced abortion, there is no evidence of an association between induced abortion and secondary infertility or ectopic pregnancy.”

While risk of death marginally increases the later a woman has an abortion, jumping from one in a million abortions to one per 11,000 at 21 weeks, only 1.3% of abortions occur post 21 weeks.

You are, in fact, 40 times more likely to die from a colonoscopy; the risk of death associated with childbirth is about 14 times higher than terminating a pregnancy.

And yet, misinformation rages on, largely unchecked.

A study conducted by the NARAL Pro-Choice America found that CPCs constantly lie to their clients about the risks of abortion. One in three CPCs in California tell women that abortion can lead to infertility and virtually three quarters of the investigated clinics warned women about the risk of Post-Abortion Syndrome.

Almost half of them linked pregnancy termination with breast cancer, a theory that, again, was disproved long ago. Breast cancer and abortion — induced or spontaneous — are not related; The National Cancer Institute reached this conclusion in 2003, but CPCs conveniently didn’t get that memo. (These stats are pre-Repro FACT Act, but their rippling effects can’t be underestimated.)

Recently, members of Students for Life gathered outside Attorney General Kamala Harris office in Los Angeles, protesting her investigation of antiabortion activist, David Daleiden, who broke the Internet last summer with his hidden camera “sting” videos of Planned Parenthood supposedly selling fetal tissue.

Remember that nightmarish morass?

Following Harris’s orders to seize Daleiden’s computers, hard drives, and California IDs he used to infiltrate meetings of the National Abortion Federation and clandestinely film Planned Parenthood doctors discussing their — completely legal — procurement of fetal tissue for medical research, pro-lifers are calling for Harris’s resignation.

But, there is a sneaking silver lining to the misinformation and fear-mongering. AB 2775 in the California Legislature was recently proffered by antichoicers as an attempt to counter the Reproductive FACT Act:

“This bill would require a facility that offers abortion services to disseminate a notice to clients, as specified, providing the telephone number for a specified organization and stating that pregnancy centers can provide women with services at no cost that include, consultation, pregnancy tests, sexually transmitted disease or sexually transmitted infection (STD/STI) testing, ultrasound services, support groups, parenting programs, and material assistance.”

Basically? They wanted an eye for an eye; if CPCs are required to disseminate information on abortion clinics, abortion clinics should be forced to disseminate information on CPCs.

But it failed to pass on April 19, ushering in a not-so-small victory for California women.

The CPC positing their dangerous misinformation as “opinions” and looking to protect their freedom of speech is not just a manipulative travesty, it’s a crime. Help fight the good fight and sign this petition urging lawmakers to enforce the Reproductive FACT Act.

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