The recent highly publicized abortion of a 32-week baby because of fetal abnormality, have again brought to our attention the reality that abortion is strongly entrenched within our society and I shudder at the lifelong trauma that will result from that decision.

Abortion trauma is unique because it can manifest in various ways and poses a serious threat to the mental health of the individuals involved. Abortion trauma can manifest as abortion grief, abortion sadness or more insidiously Post Abortion Syndrome. Of the three, I believe that Post Abortion Syndrome is the most serious and devastating because it may take many years before it is even recognised as the source of the trauma.

Post Abortion Syndrome profoundly affects all who decide to abort and whilst studies appear to show that up to 87% of those who experience an abortion are in some degree affected, it is my contention that 100% will be affected. Post Abortion Syndrome is a long term, slow developing and multi symptom. It is especially insidious because of its “slow developing” character and therefore it may be years before the source of the pain is identified. Having left the abortion unprocessed as a “death” experience results in unconscious attempts by the psyche to deal with it. To conclude satisfactorily what was started. This of course utilizes large amounts of energy leading to health problems of the mental or physical type.

How does the unconscious attempt to resolve the dissonance? By flashbacks, reliving the abortion day or actual time leading to the procedure. Nightmares. Mood changes, uncontrollable weeping, depression, hostility towards males or alternatively promiscuity, obsessive behaviour towards another child or avoidance of children especially infants, loss of any sense of joy of life, severe post natal depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, relationship difficulties, suicide and the list continues.

Time does not ameliorate the condition. Indeed with Post Abortion Syndrome time appears to increase and intensify the symptoms. Intervention is often sought after years of maladaptive behaviour and much psychological suffering and of course this makes the journey back to wholeness a most difficult journey. The healing of post abortion trauma is difficult because always there is the knowledge that “intent” was involved. It is the “intent,” the guilt of one’s responsibility for the death of one’s own vulnerable infant (this is how it is described in later years) that prevents a healing from occurring.

Post Abortion trauma is made more insidious because the decision is both time specific and irreversible. The decision made is usually made in haste because of what appears to be limited time and prevailing difficulties. However, these prevailing difficulties need not, and probably will not be present some time in the future. The decision made during a crisis moment, especially a decision about life and death needs to be understood as irreversible and needs to be understood in the present context and future context. The present context is infused with difficulties and these difficulties need to be seen for what they are, that is, time specific and transient, whilst the termination of a pregnancy is permanent.

Whilst it is understood that an unplanned pregnancy is usually a crisis pregnancy, it must also be understood that it is a conception and a pregnancy all the same, with all the emotional turmoil of any pregnancy. Hormonal changes ensure that the individual is buffeted with all sorts of emotions. This of course leads to the idea that “informed consent” can be given to justify an abortion. Indeed it is believed that as long as details of possible dangers are explained to the woman (and male if he is present) then an abortion can be carried out because it is assumed that she has understood and agreed with all that was said. This is not so because during a crisis time and under a crisis situation an individual is not capable of understanding clearly the possible ramifications of an action. Indeed all that is possible during a crisis time is automatic response. As far as I am concerned the issue of informed consent (given by the pregnant woman) cannot be valid because her psychological state during that crisis time impedes her absorption of the full gamut of possibilities and certainly does prevent her from being able to give informed consent. Any consent given is also time and context specific. A woman who this time sees an 8-10 week foetus as simply “tissue” because it is a crisis pregnancy, will see her future foetus of the same gestation as a “baby” because this time it is not a crisis pregnancy but a much wanted pregnancy. A decision to abort made under crisis condition has the potential to cause enormous pain in the future.

Abortion trauma, to varying degrees will be experienced by nearly every person who aborts however there are some individuals who are more at risk. Amongst those who are in the higher risk categories are those who abort for medical or genetic indications. Studies clearly show that women who abort for medical or genetic reasons are at higher risk of prolonged psychiatric treatment or hospitalization in the 12 months after the abortion. There are indeed numerous studies, which clearly indicate that abortion for fetal abnormality leads to severe long-term psychological reaction. It is important to understand why the adverse reaction. After counselling many women and some males it is my contention that abortion grief occurs because it was understood that what was aborted was indeed a child rather than the proffered “tissue.” Further abortion for fetal abnormality the child is usually of advanced gestation, usually a “wanted” child and bonding has occurred. Further, there is the reality that, the “perfect” child was not “perfect” and therefore the “perfect future” was also no longer “perfect” and now impossible. The reality of the child’s abnormality has also to be digested and dealt with and there is also the sense that an “imperfection” has been discovered in the family and this needs also to be assimilated. Abortion for fetal abnormality will not remove a problem, and hope that in due course there will be a recovery, because it is my experience that abortion for fetal abnormality leaves in its wake a lifelong anguish and emptiness of heart. Indeed a characteristic of abortion is deep sense of emptiness.

There is much work, which needs to be done in the area of post abortion trauma. We are only at the very beginning. However, it is important to understand that it does exist. Irrespective of strident voices attempting negate the sufferings following an abortion it is important to know that they are real –and require much gentle handling and much Mercy from God in order to be able move from despair to forgiveness and healing..

For more information or post abortion grief counselling contact Anne on 0408 175 033 or 98877669. PO Box 6094, Vermont Sth, 3133. Victoria. Australia. Victims of Abortion is concerned with individuals who have had an adverse abortion experience and who need to grieve over their lost child.