Abortion Trauma ... and Healing

Unrecognized; Untreated; The Incidence of Severe Psychological Trauma Unknown

Abortion trauma/grief, frequently destroys relationships and shatters families both present and future. Untreated it has a tendency to be trans-generational.

‘If anyone should not have been hurt by abortion, it was me. There was no doubt, I wanted the abortion...   ...but it’s like a cancer, until you deal with it, it affects every aspect of your life'

Sue, AGA’s second national co-ordinator.

At present understood to be a type post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), abortion grief/trauma tends to (but not always) have a delayed onset (months/years) that is often precipitated by a triggering event.

The cardinal features are denial and suppression, meaning, most women and men do not consciously connect the problems they are experiencing with their abortion(s).

Symptoms and severity will vary with individuals, but can include:

Self destructive behaviours

  • suicidal behaviours
  • alcohol and drug abuse
  • eating disorders
  • self injury
  • abusive relationships
  • risk taking behaviours
  • workaholicism
  • setting self up to fail

Relationship problems

  • marriage and family breakdown
  • difficulty bonding with children
  • child neglect / abuse / over protective
  • sexual dysfunction
  • domestic violence
  • with friends/work colleagues

Replacement pregnancies

  • repeat abortions
  • the atonement child

Mental health problems

  • postnatal depression
  • anxiety attacks
  • obsessive compulsive disorders
  • addictions
  • phobias
  • depression, mood swings
  • personality disorders
  • emotional breakdown
  • hallucinations - hearing voices or babies crying, seeing child at would be age.

Other symptoms

  • chronic anger or rage
  • frequent crying
  • lowered self esteem
  • chronic fatigue
  • inability to concentrate
  • headaches, chest or abdominal pains, gastro-intestinal symptoms
  • flashbacks
  • feelings of impending doom
  • sense of hopelessness
  • self isolation
  • inability to be around pregnant women, babies or small children
  • unable to hold down a job / make decisions

While ‘crumbling inside’, many women and men are able to ‘keep up appearances’. One of the first signs that things are not right after the abortion is a loss of joy of living.

‘You can never go back to being the person you were before the abortion’, is a familiar statement from post abortion women.

Common ‘triggering events’ include:

  • Anniversary dates
       abortion date
       due date of birth
       (these anniversary reactions may not start until years after the abortion)
  • Birth of a subsequent child
        (not always the first birth subsequent to the abortion)
  • Birth of relative or friend’s child or grandchild
  • Miscarriage
  • Menopause
  • Daughter reaches the age when the mother experienced abortion
  • Some other event associated with children or reproduction
  • A death experience
  • Smells, sounds, location or being again in a position associated with the abortion, for example, smell of a hospital, positioned for an internal medical examination, sound of a vacuum cleaner or dentist drill
  • Relationship break-up
  • A personal crisis

To understand abortion trauma, emotional intelligence is necessary. For many, abortion is a death experience in which one’s personal choice does not negate, but rather adds to the suffering.

These traumatized women and men have an innate belief that what is destroyed in the abortion is an unborn baby regardless of size or gestation and irrespective of the values and beliefs of doctors, lawmakers, family, partner etc.

Conflicted and unable to express the enormity of their grief, the traumatized struggle with feelings of isolation that usually leaves them questioning their own mental health.

Many believe they can never be whole or have joy in their life again, that the pain will never go away.

The emotional strain of abortion can be overwhelming for the very young and those already struggling to cope with other issues.

Women known to be more at risk of abortion trauma include;

  • adolescence and teenagers
  • sexual assault/abuse & neglect victims
  • those who feel pressured to abort
  • those who have difficulty making the decision
  • the isolated or dispossessed (lacking support network)
  • women who are already mothers
  • those who abort for health reasons: mother’s or unborn’s
  • those with developmental or psychological limitations
  • second and third trimester abortions

See our publication Post Abortion Syndrome - The Silent Suffering

Healing and the Importance of Hope

Healing begins with permission to express one’s feelings ...and finding validation.

Motherhood is not logical, it just is. An innate need to protect.

The three most serious abortion wounds are:

  • loss of the unborn
  • loss of ‘the person I was’ (particularly for women)
  • and a spiritual wound

For some, there is not another opportunity to become a parent, and compounding their grief is the:

  • loss of motherhood or fatherhood
  • loss of the person ‘I could have been’
  • loss of an only child

Further there can be other losses associated with the abortion trauma:

  • breakdown of relationships
  • problems with health
  • loss of career
  • loss of opportunities

To begin the process of healing, one needs Hope.

  • Hope for themselves
  • Hope for their unborn

With very deep wounds, one needs to be in a ‘safe’ place to begin this process

  • ...both internally and externally.

    Although for some men and women, staying in denial is a matter of survival. At that point of time in their lives, the wounds are too overwhelming.

Dr David Reardon1, a leading authority on abortion trauma, encourages seeking help and to, ‘Don’t go it alone.’

However, in the current social/political environment, discernment is required when seeking help particularly when one is in a fragile state of mind.

Steps towards healing, wholeness and the ability to have joy in life again include:

  • Overcoming Denial and Isolation
  • Revisiting Experiences and Working Through Feelings
  • Re-Humanizing Self
  • Re-Humanize the Unborn
  • Delegating of Responsibility
  • Forgiveness - Self & Others (Note: Forgiveness is neither forgetting, nor reconciliation)
  • Accepting & Integrating the Experience
  • Letting go and Moving Forward

For further clarification, see our publication Healing Post Abortion Grief

Most people have a spiritual framework, and death challenges us to further explore this dimension of ourselves. In this journey, the affirmation and support of others is important.

The healing takes time. You may never forget, but you can move beyond the pain.

Seeking Professional Help


Information Empowers

Good information gives insights, understanding and the language to express one’s self.

Abortion Grief Australia recommends:

  • Reading personal stories - particularly healing ones
  • Gaining deeper insights into:
    • Relationships and deeper human needs
    • PTSD, disenfranchised or pathological grief
    • Repressed feelings and trauma re-enactment


Building on from Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief, abortion grief therapist, Terry Selby adds guilt and shame as another stage that needs to be worked through as outlined in his book ‘The Mourning After’.

1. Denial and Isolation
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Guilt and Shame
6. Acceptance

A typical presentation of those suffering is a fluctuation through the stages, but never reaching acceptance. Two essential factors are needed to begin and complete the grieving process:

Hope and Overcoming Denial.

However, contemporary society does not recognize abortion as a death experience for parents and its denial takes many forms. Further, its participation in this denial, undermines Hope.

The principles of promoting healing are the same that apply to supporting any parent through their grief of losing a child.

Note: It is difficult for a spouse to maintain intimacy and work through their grief if the other spouse does not recognize the enormity of the loss.

Health professionals will generally find abortion trauma too confronting to validate the grief, and their forms of denial can be more subtle and confusing.

* It is important to note, that abortion referral agencies and institutions, because of their role in facilitating denial and de-humanizing the unborn, have conflicts of interest and are inappropriate venues for abortion grief therapy.

How to Give Hope to Those Wounded

  • Listen with compassion
    • Allow those suffering to express themselves, even if confronted by what is said.
    • Do not change subject.
    • Do not give ‘feel good’, platitudes such as; “It was just a few cells,” “You can always have another baby,”etc
  • Accept your helplessness - there is no ‘fix it’
  • Allow the wounded to lead
    • Encourage the working through and sharing of what led up to the abortion, for instance, experiences in childhood may have disempowered her
    • Envisage their situation and what might be needed to lighten the burden.
  • Research abortion trauma - personal stories are insightful. Links
  • Be aware mindful of triggering events such as anniversary times when more support may be needed
  • Always speak with compassion and sensitivity when referring to abortion.
    • For any parent, the death of a child is a loss like no other.

Abortion is usually a de-humanizing experience. Just ‘being there’, listening and caring, using your own words, is re-humanizing and gives Hope.

It takes courage to struggle through the healing journey.

Finally, it may help to know that many volunteers and therapists feel privileged to be included in another human being’s healing journey.

AGA maintains that all information provided serves only as a guide.

Further insights into this complex issue:


1Author, researcher and Director of the Elliot Institute an international leading authority on abortion trauma.