"Getting over" an abortion

Dear Alice,

I had an abortion almost a year ago and I have pretty much recovered emotionally from it, but every so often, I have "relapses," I become very upset for an hour or so and withdraw from the world. I in no way regret my decision — I did what I had to do — but it still upsets me. What advice do you have for me that will help me to get entirely over the abortion?

—Downhearted but Hopeful

Dear Downhearted but Hopeful, 

You are certainly being courageous in your efforts to process your abortion, and rest assured, your emotional experiences are understandable. Just like the physical aspects of abortion, emotions felt before, during, and after an abortion are unique to the individuals who experience them. 

There’s much debate about the psychological side effects of abortion. In a nutshell, these feelings aren’t clear or consistent across all people's abortion experiences. Each person's emotional response may vary depending on other circumstances in their life, their reasons for choosing to abort a pregnancy, and external influences in that decision, like a sexual partner. Negative emotions about an abortion can happen at any stage, whether it be in the decision-making process, during the abortion, and for any length of time following the procedure. These feelings may come in waves, becoming stronger at moments and dissipating at others. They may seem to be happening out of the blue, or at a time that reminds you of the abortion or your decision to have one, like the anniversary of the procedure itself or when the pregnancy was conceived. And, given the striking down of Roe v. Wade, there may be additional psychological side effects for those who are able to obtain an abortion, such as fear of facing legal repercussions since some states have imposed criminal charges. 

One thing to keep in mind is that there is no emotional stopwatch that says you need to be "over" an abortion by any specific time. These feelings may never go away completely, but certainly as more time passes, they may lessen in intensity and frequency. It may be helpful to ask yourself why you think you may be having these recurrent emotional episodes, as it could allow you to explore any underlying or unresolved issues you may have regarding your experience. After any major personal decision, it’s completely natural to re-examine your actions with a fine-tooth comb, and part of that may include sorting through residual feelings about your decision. For more information about the range of emotions people experience in their decision to have an abortion, check out Planned Parenthood's online information section called Considering About Abortion

Even negative or hard to understand emotions can be teaching tools. Talking with a close friend or relative, journaling, or talking with an abortion counselor are all good ways to continue working through what you've experienced. It's never too late to speak with someone about post-abortion emotions you may be having. Many people use Exhale, an after-abortion talk-line to sort out the range of emotions they experience. Their services are also available through their text line, 617-749-2948. If you find that even after these attempts to make peace with your abortion and understand your emotions, you're wanting more support, you may want to talk with a mental health professional. However, for those in a place where abortion is heavily restricted or banned and are worried about legal repercussions, it may be in your best interest to keep your abortion, or your desire to get one, as private as you can and only share this information with those you truly trust. For more information on keeping your data secure, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has additional guidance to support you so you may safely seek information. 

Having an abortion can be part of the normal reproductive lives of many individuals. So, kudos to you for paying close attention to your emotions, knowing yourself, and recognizing your needs more completely as a result of this experience. 

Last updated Jul 21, 2023
Originally published Oct 01, 1994

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