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Researchers: Post-Abortion Syndrome a Growing Health Problem

Post Abortion Syndrome, the negative reactions many women experience after abortion, can be characterized as a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and should be further researched, according to an article published in the Fall 1992 issue of the Journal of Social Issues.

The article, authored by clinical researchers and psychologists Anne Speckhard and Vincent Rue, found that significantly more research is needed to fully explore the phenomenon of Post-Abortion Syndrome, or PAS.

The authors identify PAS, as a combination of negative reactions to the abortion event, such as flashbacks, nightmares, grief and painful abortion recollections resulting in reduced responsiveness.

The researchers concluded that PAS is a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in contexts other than abortion. PAS may result immediately following an abortion or it may be delayed. It may persist for many years and spontaneous recovery is not likely.

PAS is believed to be a series of related and unsuccessful attempts to gain mastery over the abortion experience. It results in partial to total cognitive restructuring and behavioral reorganization. Secondary symptoms of PAS include depression, substance abuse, sleep disorders and suicidal thoughts.

According to Speckhard and Rue, many symptoms are present after the abortion which were not present prior to abortion. These include: difficulty concentrating; exaggerated startled responses to memories of the abortion experience; physiological reactions to events that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the abortion; self-devaluation; and the inability to forgive the abortion decision. How voluntary the abortion decision was is largely responsible for the perceived degree of traumatization.

Speckhard and Rue concluded that flawed studies on the effects of abortion and political pressure have produced a lack of information, or informational deficit, concerning Post Abortion trauma; at present, it is impossible to estimate with any degree of accuracy the incidence of Post Abortion Syndrome.

However, there are indications that PAS is present in a substantial number of women following abortion. For example, one study cited in the Speckhard and Rue article stated that of 80 women who had abortions at a Baltimore area clinic in the mid-1980s, approximately 20 percent had all of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as established by the DSM-III R criteria of the American Psychiatric Association. The same study also found that 45 percent of the women were still having flashbacks of the experience even three to five years later.

The researchers have observed that PAS is not limited to women who have had an abortion. It has been documented in others who participate in the abortion, such as fathers, siblings and other family members of the child, and abortion clinic staff.

Speckhard and Rue recommend improved research on the subject and emphasize the growing need for specialized Post Abortion recovery treatment models and services as well as educational workshops for both the general public and professional groups.


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