"Post-abortion syndrome" was first named in 1981 by anti-abortionist Vince Rue. Together with psychologist Anne Speckhard, he defined the syndrome in 1992 as a form of post traumatic stress disorder (ICD-10 code F43.1), which occurs after an abortion. The term "post-abortion syndrome" is also found on many anti-abortion or "pro-life" websites.
In a nutshell, abortion opponents claim that many women develop mental issues after an abortion with symptoms of low mood, anxiety, and chronic bereavement. This false diagnosis is used by abortion opponents to argue against abortion while showing themselves as caring about the health of women with unwanted pregnancies.
It has now been 40 years since this "syndrome" was coined, and yet it does not feature in any classification system of disease, such as ICD-10 or DSM-V. This is because it is not a real syndrome and there is no scientific evidence that "post-abortion syndrome" exists. In fact, science points to the opposite. Studies done on women who have had an abortion show that over 95% feel they have made the right decision, and the most common feeling after an abortion is a sense of relief. The minority of women who experience grief after an abortion usually feel better about it after a few years.
The fear of mental illness is used - especially by opponents of abortion - to intimidate pregnant women, to socially stigmatise abortions, and to make access to abortions more difficult.
What really increases mental stress to women with unwanted pregnancy is the criminalisation and stigmatisation of abortion, not the abortion procedure itself. If abortion were legal, women with unwanted pregnancies would be able to open up, seek unbiased counselling, and get the help they need even if this help is an abortion. If we really cared about the mental wellbeing of women, we would facilitate their access to abortion not hinder it.
- Rocca et al. (2020) "Emotions and decision rightness over five years following an abortion: An examination of decision difficulty and abortion stigma" https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953619306999
- American Psychological Association comment on abortion and mental health: https://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/abortion/index