The psychological sequelae of therapeutic abortion--denied and completed

Am J Psychiatry. 1991 May;148(5):578-85. doi: 10.1176/ajp.148.5.578.


Objective: The purpose of this article is to review the available literature on the psychological sequelae of therapeutic abortion, addressing both the issue of the effects of the abortion on the woman involved and the effects on the woman and on the child born when abortion is denied.

Method: Papers reviewed were initially selected by using a Medline search. This procedure resulted in 225 papers being reviewed, which were further selected by limiting the papers to those reporting original research. Finally, studies were assessed as to whether or not they used control groups or objective, validated symptom measures.

Results: Adverse sequelae occur in a minority of women, and when such symptoms occur, they usually seem to be the continuation of symptoms that appeared before the abortion and are on the wane immediately after the abortion. Many women denied abortion show ongoing resentment that may last for years, while children born when the abortion is denied have numerous, broadly based difficulties in social, interpersonal, and occupational functions that last at least into early adulthood.

Conclusions: With increasing pressure on access to abortion services in North America, nonpsychiatrist physicians and mental health professionals need to keep in mind the effects of both performing and denying therapeutic abortion. Increased research into these areas, focusing in particular on why some women are adversely affected by the procedure and clarifying the relationship issues involved, continues to be important.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Therapeutic / adverse effects*
  • Abortion, Therapeutic / psychology
  • Adolescent
  • Adoption / psychology
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health
  • Child, Preschool
  • Child, Unwanted / psychology*
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Internationality
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted / psychology
  • Pregnant Women*
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology