Post-abortion trauma seen as worse than miscarriages

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The lingering distress, sadness and guilt brought on by an induced abortion is worse than that of a miscarriage and decreases much more slowly as time goes on, according to a five-year study of Norwegian women published yesterday.

In the aftermath of abortion, women “experienced more mental distress long after the event — two and five years afterwards — than women who had a miscarriage,” the researchers reported.

Along with “high levels” of anxiety and feelings of guilt and shame, the women who had voluntarily ended their pregnancy also “had to make efforts to avoid thoughts about the event,” the study also noted. Avoidance, in fact, “was consistently elevated.”

Researchers from the Norwegian Council for Mental Health, the University of Oslo and Buskerud Central Hospital in Drammen evaluated 40 women who had miscarried at an average of 17 weeks gestation and 80 women who had undergone an abortion at less than 13 weeks, with no fetal abnormalities. The women — all 30 or younger — were questioned at 10 days, then again six months, two years and five years after their pregnancies ended, in a period from 1998 to 2003.

Out of the entire group of women, only a dozen — one who had miscarried, the rest who had aborted — did not describe the experience of losing a baby as difficult. The researchers also reported that seven women who had abortions dropped out of the study all together “because it was too difficult for them to answer questions about the pregnancy termination.”

Although the women who had miscarried experienced more immediate grief, those feelings abated and began to resolve over time — a pattern “expected after a traumatic and sad life event,” the study stated.

For example, 10 days after their miscarriage, 48 percent of the group members were still distressed by the experience. By six months, however, that number had dropped to 23 percent. By five years, it stood at 3 percent.

Among the women who had abortions, 30 percent had feelings of grief and mental distress 10 days after the procedure. By six months, the figure had dropped to 26 percent. At five years, the figure still lingered at 20 percent who remained mentally distressed.

“Women who had experienced a miscarriage had significantly ameliorated feelings of loss and guilt over the period of observation, but this was not true for women who had induced abortion,” the study stated.

Overall, mental health of the women in the abortion group also proved worse, which only added to their woes.

“Depression, trauma responses, quality of life and feelings may likewise be poorer for women in the induced abortion group because of their mental health status before the abortion,” the study added.

The findings were released by Biomed Central, a London-based publisher of 140 international medical journals.

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