Accordingly, numerous researchers have attempted to determine the extent to which abortion results in psychological problems in the weeks and months following the procedure. Some have investigated what has been called "post-abortion syndrome," hypothesizing that abortion may lead to a form of posttraumatic stress disorder, even though abortion does not meet the American Psychiatric Association's definition of trauma (Gold, 1990). Most of the 250 studies dealing with the psychological effects of induced abortion suffer from substantial methodological shortcomings and limitations (Council on Scientific Affairs, 1992; Adler et al., 1990; Gold, 1990; Koop, 1989). In light of these problems, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop concluded in 1989 that data "were insufficient…to support the premise that abortion does or does not produce a post-abortion syndrome." He also concluded that emotional problems resulting from abortion are "minuscule from a public health perspective" (Koop, 1989). Similarly, Adler et al. (1990:42) concluded that "studies [of the psychological impact of abortion] are consistent in their findings of relatively rare instances of negative responses after abortion and of decreases in psychological distress after abortion compared to before abortion."

Political Issues

It is important to add that even though the medical and psychological consequences of abortion for individual women are largely minor, the consequences for the nation's political and social life are less benign. The legality and availability of abortion have been associated with important and painful divisions throughout the country, even overt hostility and violence, including several murders of health care personnel working for clinics that provide abortions. Controversy over abortion has affected public discourse on a wide range of issues—health care reform, fetal tissue research, and public funding for contraceptive services and research, among other topics. Views about abortion have colored state and local elections, Supreme Court nominations, political conventions, presidential politics, and many other issues as well. Polling data show that although a majority of Americans continue to support the basic legality of abortion, there remain many differences of opinion about the extent to which abortion should be available without restrictions, the acceptability of using government funds to pay for abortions, whether parental consent should be required when a minor seeks an abortion, and other issues as well (Blendon et al., 1993). It appears that social and political controversy over abortion will likely remain a divisive force in the United States—a reality that underscores the importance of reducing unintended pregnancy, which is the principal antecedent to abortion.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement