Many women leave the abortion clinic relieved that the problem is over… resolved. Now they can go on with their lives. However, quite a few discover within a week, month, or even years later, that they were wrong. The issue wasn’t settled that fateful day at all. A residual sadness or guilt lingers in the corner of their hearts and minds. It won’t go away.

Theresa Burke, Ph.D. has written extensively on this topic. She is the founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, a post-abortion recovery program, which helps women move on from their decision to end their pre-birth child’s life. In her book, Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, she discusses how both physical and psychological issues can surface, and yet the source goes undetected. Burke discovered this common link while conducting group support and therapy sessions. Even though all had different histories and problems, she realized a common thread hidden in her female clients’ symptoms. Many of the women she counseled had chosen to have an abortion and had thought they had moved on with their lives, when in fact they had not emotionally reconciled with their decision. Shoving the forbidden emotions deep down inside, the grief, guilt, anger, or regret later became manifested in physical and psychological ways. In Forbidden Grief, Burke explains:

“Because abortion is legal, it is presumed to be safe. Indeed, it is commonly identified as a woman’s ‘right.’ This right, or privilege, is supposed to liberate women from the burden of unwanted pregnancies. It is supposed to provide them with relief, not grief. Indeed, one in three women will immediately experience feelings of grief, loss, or depression after an abortion.... At the same time abortion relieves the stress, it plants seeds for future stresses… that may erupt years later in unexpected ways.” (pg.29)

Many never revisit their decision.

Burke further states that abortions affect three central identities innate in women: their sexuality, morality, and maternal instincts. The decision to abort is often an emotional one and few women take the time to sort through all of the potential effects it may have on their future. Months of counseling prior to their decision-making is not an option. They want the issue dealt with now, before too many more weeks pass and they begin to “show.”

Many never revisit the decision. Very few seek counseling or advice after the fact. It is something many women do not wish to discuss with anyone else. They want to put it in the past and move on. If left unresolved, however, the abortion can taint their lives, relationships, and emotions, without them realizing it.

The unresolved issues manifest themselves later in symptoms their doctors often do not relate to the abortion event because either the women never reveal they had one or the doctor is so used to seeking other sources for the problems that he or she never associates the past abortion with the current symptoms. However, so many correlations have been made between that one event and a later development of anxiety, depression, or low self esteem that psychologists now have a term for these common manifestations: PAS (post-abortion syndrome.)

An article in WebMD agrees. In 2015, a study in Norway regarding women who had lost their unborn children, concluded that, “Miscarriage and abortion are both stressful events, but abortion may be associated with more long-term psychological distress. Researchers interviewed 40 women who had miscarriages and 80 women who had abortions and followed them for five years. Women who had miscarriages suffered more anxiety and depression immediately after the event and six months later. But abortion was associated with more stress and anxiety two years — and even five years — after the event.”

Symptoms can occur years later.

Other clinical studies, especially over the past ten years, have concluded that eating disorders, fear of relationships, stomach problems, lower back aches, and unexplained headaches can occur even up to 25 years later. Addictive behaviors are common among post-abortion women as they try to deal with the hidden feelings they themselves may not realize are buried deep inside. Wrong decisions continue to plague them — from job choices, to what type of men to date, to lifestyle preferences. Many women shut themselves off from emotions in an effort to not deal with them. People see them as aloof, isolated, or distant. They bury themselves in their careers.

Learning that the abortion may be the initial stimulus for her current symptoms can provide hope for the woman who is suffering from either physical or emotional stress. Recovery from the residual negative effects of choosing to abort can be dealt with in a loving, caring, and forgiving manner. For example, Burke and other psychologists mentally returns to the day of the abortion with her clients, and then begin to work forward to help them come to terms with the cause of their symptoms.

In Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreats throughout the United States, Canada, and now in England and other European countries, counselors have been trained to lead women through the process they never allowed themselves to experience. They “bury” their unborn child. They visualize the infant whole, happy, and content instead of a bloody tangle of cells, dislocated limbs, and torn flesh. Similar to the stages one travels through over the loss of a loved one, each woman, at her own pace, is encouraged to move through the grief, guilt, anger, denial, and regret, acknowledging each emotion as real and valid. Even women who aborted due to rape or incest can find wholeness again.

Finally give birth... to freedom.

As more and more professionals are realizing that abortions can cause a myriad of physical and psychological issues down the road, methods to treat women in a non-judgmental, empathetic manner are becoming a lot more commonplace, and retreats and programs are popping up all over the globe. These programs allow women the time to grieve and the time to heal. It helps them finally to give birth…to freedom.

If you have experienced an abortion, even years ago, and are now experiencing any physical or psychological issues, our mentors are here to help you (just use the connect tab below and you'll hear back soon).You also may wish to contact Rachel’s Vineyard or some other abortion recovery program. What you are feeling is real. Many women have felt the same way. There is healing available. You do not have to suffer alone anymore.

This article was written by: Julie Cosgrove

Photo Credit: kevin laminto