The sickness born of stigma- thoughts?

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-03-2007
The sickness born of stigma- thoughts?
Mon, 06-18-2007 - 6:11pm

Hey, I think this merits its own thread. So I'm moving it. It's an article written by a provider, with thoughts about mental illness after depression. I'm very interested to hear what you all think about mental health effects of abortion itself or of the harassment women who abort go through.

Post Abortion Syndrome: Myth or Reality

by William F. Harrison, M.D., M.D., FACOG

Copyright (c) 2007 William F. Harrison, M.D., FACOG -- all rights reserved

I first became aware of the term Post Abortion Syndrome in the mid 1980s. In 1984, my office, where I provide elective abortion, began to be picketed by a fellow with a doctorate in education who billed himself in the phone book as a "Christian Counselor". After a few months of his picketing activity, I accepted a challenge from him to have a discussion about abortion on one of the local radio talk shows. He showed up with a fundamentalist Baptist preacher in tow and we had our discussion.

During this encounter, Dr. Pursley (for such was his name) mentioned that the reason that he had become interested in the abortion issue was because he had seen so many women with Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS). He characterized it as a condition marked by depression, flashbacks, severe regret, even agony and suicidal ideation about one or more abortion experiences that the women had previously experienced. Pursley maintained that he had seen scores of these women in his practice. At that time, I had done only a few hundred elective abortions since most abortions in my region were performed at other physician's offices. This was about to change, however, because I soon became the only physician openly providing elective abortion for a wide radius around my office. Over the intervening years I have done almost 18,000 of these procedures in my office and seen almost all these patients back for short-term care, and at least 10,000 or more for longer term follow up.

During all this time, I kept reading about PAS and hearing it discussed in various Pro-Life forums. There seemed to be no question in the minds of the Pro-Life activists discussing this entity that it does in reality exist. And over the years I have talked to, read and heard the opinions honored by the vast majority of social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, Pro-Choice ministerial counselors and others who might be expected to see women displaying symptoms of this syndrome, who swear that it does not exist, that they have never seen a patient with such a syndrome. Is PAS a myth, or is it real?

In my opinion, Post Abortion Syndrome is real. But the only people seeing it are those counselors with a strong fundamentalist religious commitment who are also strongly Pro-Life in their politics. Why are they seeing this syndrome while the vast majority of mainstream counselors are not?

There are millions of American women each year who experience and are diagnosed with major depressions. Many of these patients suffer from the symptoms of depression on a regular basis. While I am not a psychiatrist, I am told that depression is our most common psychological diagnosis. Additionally, there are now some 40,000,000 plus American women who have undergone one or more abortions since 1973. These abortions have been done for a variety of reasons, some of the problems linger long after the abortion. These include social, medical and economic difficulties as well as long-term relationship problems with spouse and significant others. Many girls and women having abortions are trapped in intolerable situations that are, in and of themselves, causes of major sadness. In my practice, I have seen thousands of women who presented with problems that they felt were overwhelming and the expressed reason they sought abortion. When first seen, nearly all patients will, if asked, relate their fear and remorse about being pregnant and feeling compelled to abort. Many think of themselves as failures for being in the position that they feel it necessary to abort. Many are tremendously angry at themselves and/or their partner. I have never seen or heard of a patient who expressed happiness at her need for an abortion.

I see well over 60% of all my abortion patients back for a 2 weeks post-abortion evaluation. Almost without exception, these patients express no regret and remorse, no guilt or fear of long-term problems. Indeed, the average woman's almost universal emotion is an overwhelming sense of relief that she is no longer pregnant and thus no longer anticipates compounding, with the birth of a child, the problems that she was facing pre-abortion, many of which she must still confront.

Because these women are just as "at risk" of a depression at some point in the future as anyone else, they run the risk of falling into the "therapeutic" clutches of one or more of the "Pro-Life counselors" who are diagnosing all these Post Abortion Syndrome patients. Willingly or sometimes unwittingly, their history is obtained by these "counselors", and major emphasis is placed on previous abortion experience. They are authoritatively informed that their problems all stem from the abortion(s) that they have undergone in the past.

How do women get directed to these "counselors" most likely to "find" post abortion syndrome? Some are self-referred, others are guided by anti-abortion zealots who have discovered their past, many are sent by Pro-Life ministers and ministerial counselors, some by so called "crisis pregnancy centers". A few are even referred by supposedly legitimate physicians of fundamentalist religious bent. But all women diagnosed with PAS have three things in common: they have had one or more abortions, they are having or will have significant psychological problems, and they are now members or will become involved with an anti-abortion fundamentalist religious group.

What of the millions of women who have undergone abortion, have depression and are not diagnosed by their therapists as having PAS? Is it that their therapist is just plain inadequate and therefore unable to make this diagnosis? Or could it be that those therapists seeing and treating PAS patients are themselves creating the syndrome? Or is the patient's new fundamentalist religious commitment somehow at fault? After all, many consider a belief in the teachings of all fundamentalist religions potentially delusional. What is one of the major elements in the diagnosis of a major psychosis? Delusions!

After long years of observation of women with depression, of others caught in the grip of religious fundamentalism, and of thousands of women who have had abortions, it is my thesis that while abortion seems a necessary component of Post Abortion Syndrome which, again, I now believe to be real - it is not the etiological or causative factor in PAS. Following Koch's postulates concerning factors associated with various bacteriologic diseases, the third element after abortion and depression - that is present in every patient diagnosed with Post Abortion Syndrome, is religious fundamentalist post-abortion counseling. While many millions of religiously fundamentalist women have had abortions, and many millions of others have had depressions, unless they fall under the spell of one of the militant Christian PAS counseling "specialists", they do not have the long-term problems that might be called "post abortion syndrome". These religious fundamentalist psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and the "Christian Counselors" who claim they are seeing large numbers of PAS patients are like the footbinders who worked to make women's feet "beautiful" in China until a century or so ago. In order to prevent the feet of upper class female children from growing into the (it was thought) grotesquely ugly "big foot", the feet of female children were bound tightly at a very young age. This resulted in tiny, grossly deformed and almost totally dysfunctional feet and reportedly was the cause of great suffering among the female children who were subjected, with the best of intentions, to the gentle mercies of the footbinders. Christian fundamentalist PAS counselors are the modern day equivalent of the footbinder, responsible for much suffering - and more than a little mental deformity and dysfunction.

We must conclude that it is not abortion per se which causes the very real entity, Post Abortion Syndrome. Rather, it is extreme anti-abortion bias of much of Christian fundamentalism and of the fundamentalist counselors who diagnose and "treat" PAS.

These counselors should come with the following Surgeon General's warning:
Danger - If you have had or are contemplating abortion, Fundamentalist Christianity and its associated "Christian Counselors" may be Hazardous to your Mental Health!

William F. Harrison, M.D., FACOG
Fayetteville Women's Clinic
1011 N. College Ave.
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Tele (479) 442-8166

Copyright (c) 2007 William F. Harrison, M.D., FACOG -- all rights reserved

We welcome FEEDBACK! Send e-mail feedback to: William F. Harrison, M.D. -

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-14-2003
Tue, 06-19-2007 - 9:46am

Well, there is no doubt that an unwanted/unexpected pregnancy is a crisis. Abortion is not a pleasant experience, and I'd like to add that the need for the procedure stems from the crisis.

We all know now that not only life threatening experiences can lead to PTSD. Also, it isn't an unfair assumption that many, many of these young women who abort their unwanted pregnancies are already in less-than-favourable domestic situations. The crisis of an unwanted pregnancy and the need for an abortion coupled with a bad domestic partnership that can indeed be abusive in some nature can certainly prequalify someone with suceptibility to having PTSD, into suffering from it IMO.

I've always thought that the involvement of fundamentalist/pro-life/politically motivated anti-abortion groups after abortion can exacerbate any grief a woman is going through with abortion. Without meaning to, they shame these woman with their language and beliefs. They do so at a very vulnerable time. To me, it isn't at all far fetched to believe that PAS could be a form of PTSD, or for those already suffering from PTSD, CPTSD (there are far more of us out there than believed, and many are misdiagnosed and/or not under the care of a qualified physician). That's why I believe the majority of PAS "discoveries" come from the fundamentalist/anti-abortion crowd and why I don't believe there is a separate disorder called "Post Abortion Syndrome". I also believe that the "vast numbers" of PAS diagnoses are unfounded. These diagnoses are not made from qualified professionals but from agenda-driven people who are not experts in psychology. PAS is neither defined in the DSM-V, nor slated for addition in the upcoming revision (not sure if it's already in print). The fact that it's called "PAS" is proof to me on its own that the persons coining the term and dignosing women are not caring for these women objectively.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Tue, 06-19-2007 - 3:01pm

"In my opinion, Post Abortion Syndrome is real. But the only people seeing it are those counselors with a strong fundamentalist religious commitment who are also strongly Pro-Life in their politics. Why are they seeing this syndrome while the vast majority of mainstream counselors are not?"

I found this paragraph interesting and thought that maybe the connection is that possibly these women don't have regret or don't feel the "syndrome" as they call it until some point in their life when they come to know God and realize that the child they aborted was created by God? Before that they never looked at their termination in that way?

It makes sense to me because we've discussed the "religious" connection here on the board...that the majority of prolifers also are Christians or believe that the unborn are created by God...therefore when terminating we are killing a life created by God. So it makes sense that the Christian counselors would see this "syndrome" more often than the fundamentialist or non Christian counselors....doesn't it?


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-03-2007
Tue, 06-19-2007 - 3:22pm


Wouldn't that require that all women who have abortions but don't suffer from "PAS" are out of touch with God, and have no religion?

I think that many of the women who have posted here about their abortion feel a deep connection with God, whether that's the Christian God or another, and yet don't feel "PAS". And Dr. Harrison, for example, feels moved to provide abortions out of his Christian faith. How does that reconcile?

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-07-2007
Tue, 06-19-2007 - 3:51pm

I think those who are pro-life or who are so vehemently opposed to abortion are definitely religious. It certainly makes sense that this *syndrome* is more prevalent among those who are devout to their religion/god.

For me, it's about science and biology. I don't see conception, pregnancy or birth as a *miracle*.

I find one of the biggest problems I have with organized religion (besides the hypocrisy)is the guilt/regret factor. Religion does a really good job making someone feel guilty for their mistakes but it does nothing to teach a person how to forgive themselves and rather forces a person to rely on *something* else to forgive them. Organized religion makes one blind to reality because it is wholly based on faith.

I believe this is an issue for society in general but is more easily overcome.