Updated: Jul 17, 2019
If you're thinking of having an abortion, you might be wondering if there's any truth in the belief that women experience regret after abortion. It's often said that such women end up suffering from a variety of mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and more.
Why do women have abortions?
Women who get an abortion have very good reasons to do so. They've usually thought very hard before getting one and they'd have explored all options.
Some women have health problems that might deteriorate severely during a pregnancy. Others know their fetus has a fatal health condition and will die a few hours after birth.
Women who've been raped often find it very difficult to carry their pregnancy till the end. Sometimes, a pregnancy that started with such traumatic events causes deep anguish. A woman might find healing easier if she didn't have to go through the pregnancy after a rape.
Others, still, might have social problems they know won't let them take proper care of a child. This might mean financial difficulties, a problematic current status in life or even being involved in an abusive relationship. It's often unwise bringing a child into the world when such struggles exist.
Whatever the reason might be, women don't take the decision to terminate a pregnancy lightly.
Is the termination of pregnancy (ToP) procedure traumatic?
Medical abortion is quite straightforward with few consequences when carried out under appropriate medical supervision. Women will get cramping and heavy bleeding, but they're usually counselled beforehand about this. This means that women know exactly what to expect, decreasing risk of traumatic experiences.
Surgical abortion is also a simple procedure done under light anaesthetic. There are very few complications when it's performed in clinics by trained professionals. Women are usually very well taken care of by staff. This helps alleviate their anxiety and any negative emotions they might have about the surgical procedure itself.
What does research tell us about regret after an abortion?
Studies have shown that the majority of women who undergo a termination of pregnancy don't experience any regret. In fact, most say they feel relieved after the procedure. This was shown even years after the event.
However, some studies have found that in places where stigma exists against abortion, women are more likely to feel regret after the procedure. In other words, local culture, the women's spiritual stance on abortion and society's acceptance of abortion play a large part whether a women regrets terminating a pregnancy.
Other research has also linked the risk of getting a mental illness after having an abortion with other factors in the woman's life. These include an ongoing or past history of mental illness, and stressors like significant financial constraints or an abusive partner.
What's the situation in Malta?
Abortion in Malta is currently illegal. Any woman who wants to undergo a termination of pregnancy might opt to get abortive tablets over the internet. One must note here that it's still illegal to take such tablets in Malta and any woman caught doing so can face time in prison. It's also very difficult to know whether mailed tablets from dubious sources really contain the medicine they claim to contain and the dose of that medicine.
Women who decide to carry out a medical abortion in Malta are often worried about running into complications that might require them to go to the Emergency Department. This can cause a significant amount of anxiety with longer lasting effects.
Sometimes, women in Malta choose to go abroad and get a medical or surgical abortion there. It's perfectly legal having an abortion in countries that have legislation that allows abortion. However, it places significant stress on the woman. She needs to get leave at short notice and book accommodation and flights. She has to go without the support of her friends and family, and very often will have to find a suitable excuse to explain her trip to them. If she has children, she needs to find them trustworthy carers. Once she gets there, she's seen by foreign doctors who don't know her medical history in detail, even though they'll do their best to give her a good service.
After it's all over, it's probable the woman needs to keep it a secret. She knows that when the topic arises, she'll have to sit tight listening to relatives, friends and acquaintances voicing judgmental and harsh opinions on women who have abortions.
It's small wonder this might leave a negative effect on a woman in Malta who's had an abortion.
Several Maltese women who've had an abortion confirmed with us that their primary emotion is feeling unburdened and relief after the procedure. However, a common heartache is how, very often, they feel unable to discuss the experience with their closest ones for fear of being judged.
What are Doctors for Choice Malta requesting?
We're asking the government to decriminalise and legalise abortion in Malta to avoid excessive stress on women who need to terminate a pregnancy. Accessing abortion services in Malta also avoids discriminating against those who can't afford to go abroad for a termination.
Doctors for Choice Malta would also like to see better sex education for citizens of all ages. We're also requesting free contraception, which in the long run, decreases the number of abortions done.