Abortion and your emotions – how you might feel at every stage

5th October, 2022 • 11 min read

Abortion can bring mixed emotions, from before you make your decision through to having the abortion and beyond.

“Sometimes your emotions might come as a surprise to you. At other times they can confuse you and they may change over time,” says

Dr Ann Nainan
, doctor and Healthily expert.

“Before you have the abortion and during the treatment you might be certain that you want to go ahead. At the same time, you can experience a wide range of emotions including relief, fear, doubt, anxiety, sadness or guilt.

“After your abortion you could feel relief that the pregnancy is over, or you could be struggling to come to terms with your pregnancy ending, even though it was your decision.”

Add in the hormonal changes associated with having been pregnant and the emotional side effects of abortion can feel like a lot to deal with.

Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to abortion and mental health. So read on to find out how to navigate your feelings and what help and support is out there.

Find more useful information on abortion care with our

complete Guide
.

Deciding to have an abortion

The decision is something you may or may not need emotional support with. You might be absolutely certain you want an abortion right from the start – you know pregnancy isn’t the right option for you and you may not need, or want, counselling.

“Or you may feel unsure and need support with your decision. You might call on your partner – if you have one – friends or family to guide you,” says doctor and Healthily expert,

Dr Adiele Hoffman
. “Or maybe you’d prefer to speak to someone neutral. This can be useful particularly if you feel you’re being pressured to continue the pregnancy or have a termination, or if you don’t want anyone close to know about the abortion. The most important thing to remember is that it’s your choice.”

Support for decision–making

If you feel that you want professional support, here are some of the options available to you.

  • Planned Parenthood
    : this non-profit organisation in the US provides counselling and support before and after abortion, by telphone, telemedicine or in person. They guide you through some of the things you might want to consider, including whether you feel ready for a baby, whether adoption is an option, any strong religious beliefs and how a baby would change your life in a way you do or don’t want

  • Marie Stopes International Reproductive Choices
    : provides counselling services across the globe to support you in making up your mind. Visit their website to find out about services in your location

  • All-Options
    : gives information on pregnancy, parenting, abortion and adoption in the US

  • Abortions Welcome
    : offers non-judgemental information on what you might want to consider, to women in the US

  • National Unplanned Pregnancy Advisory Service (NUPAS)
    : provides professional counselling before an abortion in the UK

  • British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS)
    : provides pre-abortion counselling which helps you explore your options, including continuing the pregnancy, adoption, becoming a parent and having an abortion

Support for deciding on abortion if there’s a fetal abnormality

Between 2% and 3% of all parents attending an antenatal clinic for screening will receive results suggesting their baby has a fetal abnormality. Between 81% and 90% of those parents make the heartbreaking decision to terminate the pregnancy.

News that your baby may have a condition such as Down’s Syndrome, Potter’s syndrome or bilateral renal agenesis, can make you feel shocked, angry, sad, grief-stricken. You may experience disbelief and isolation, and feel like no one else could understand how you’re feeling.

Only you can make the decision and that can be incredibly difficult. But there are specialist services available to give you the information and support you need:

  • ask your doctor to refer you for specialist counselling

  • Antenatal Results and Choices
    is a UK charity providing specialist support for making decisions based around fetal abnormality

  • for help with reconciling religious beliefs with abortion in the US contact the

    Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

  • you may also find it helpful to find a support group, such as

    TFMR Mamas
    (TFMR means ‘terminating for medical reasons’) which is run by a woman with firsthand experience of this

Abortion and mental health: before and during an abortion

Your emotions may vary depending on the reasons for your decision, how far along your pregnancy is, and your own mental health and personal circumstances such as your financial situation and your relationship with a partner, if you have one.

We look at some of the emotions you may feel when you’re waiting for an abortion or going through the procedure, how you can handle them and where to get support.

Feeling scared

You might feel anxious about the abortion itself – what will happen, how much you will bleed, how painful it will feel, whether it will work, whether there’ll be any complications and how quickly you can return to your normal routine and work.

What to do:

  • ask your healthcare professional questions and read any materials they give you, so you know exactly what to expect. Your abortion provider will tell you in advance about pain relief you might need

  • if you’re having a medical abortion (also known as the ‘abortion pill’) at home, have painkillers ready and ask a friend or family member to check in on you, if you feel comfortable doing so

  • read our article,

    Abortion explained
    for information on medical and surgical abortion, what to expect during treatment, plus warning signs of complications

Feeling guilty

You might feel guilt about ending your pregnancy or you may have strong religious beliefs that you feel prohibit it. This may be particularly true if someone has being trying to influence you – your partner, family, friends or a pro-life group.

What to do:

  • don’t bottle up your feelings, try to find someone neutral to talk it through with. Abortion providers and the support organisations mentioned above all offer counselling. They won’t make the decision for you and will emphasise that you can change your mind about an abortion at any point

Feeling angry or that you have no choice

You may feel you have no choice but to have an abortion because of your personal circumstances. It may be that you’ve been raped or you’re a survivor of incest, or you have a health problem such as cancer, or the baby has a fetal abnormality.

What to do:

You may need specialist counselling. Here are support organisations that you may find helpful:

  • rape or incest: specialist counselling is available to you if your pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. If you’ve reported the rape to the police they can refer you to an abortion counsellor. You can also contact the US’s largest anti-sexual violence charity

    RAINN
    or
    Survivor’s of Incest Anonymous
    , or
    Rape Crisis
    in the UK

  • cancer: you don’t always have to end a pregnancy because of cancer but in some cases you may be advised not to go ahead with your pregnancy as you may need to start treatment immediately if your cancer is advanced and/or aggressive. You may also need to think about methods to

    protect your fertility
    . For more information and support, visit
    Cancer.Net
    in the US,
    Macmillan Cancer Support
    in the UK, or
    Mummy’s Star
    which provides support around cancer and baby loss

Feeling relieved

Research shows that the most commonly experienced emotion about abortion is relief – so you’re by no means alone if this is how you feel. In one big study from the US, it was found that 5 years after an abortion, 95% of women said they felt their abortion had been the right decision for them.

What to do: Try looking at it this way: now you can focus on processing your feelings as it’s common to have a mix

Mental health after abortion

Dealing with emotions after abortion can be hard to navigate. You may feel the same range of feelings like relief, empowerment, sadness, regret, low mood or guilt, as you did before the abortion.

It’s also useful to understand how your hormones can influence how you feel afterwards. “In the first few days after an abortion, your hormones are returning to their pre-pregnancy levels. These chemical changes can play havoc with your emotions and mood and make you feel sad. In most people, these don't last long,” says Dr Hoffman.

“Bear in mind that your emotional health can be affected by the physical effects of abortion, too. For instance, if you have bad cramps or breast tenderness those symptoms can serve as an emotional reminder of the abortion.

“How you feel may also depend on the reasons for your abortion, your own mental health before the abortion and your relationship with your partner – if you have one – or whether you are coping with this alone. Your emotions can also change day to day and there is no clear timeline,” adds Dr Hoffman.

Your relationship after abortion

If you’re in a relationship and you’ve had an abortion, it may well have an impact on you as a couple. The abortion may affect how you feel about the relationship and it may change your feelings about sex. To find out more about abortion and relationships, read our article

Sex after abortion
.

Depression after abortion

Overall, research hasn’t shown that women who have wanted abortions have more mental health problems afterwards.

In the US study mentioned above, 1,000 US women were interviewed – these were a mix of women who had abortions and women who were denied wanted abortions as their pregnancy was too far along. The women were then followed up for 5 years.

The study followed both groups of women and found that abortion didn’t increase the risk of developing depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts both in the short and long-term. The study also found that compared to having an abortion, being denied an abortion may be associated with a greater risk of short-term psycholological problems.

Read more about

self-care for depression
.

Guilt or regret after abortion

It’s possible you may experience some guilt or a period of mourning for what might have been after an abortion. These are common emotions after an abortion, even if you feel that abortion was the right choice for you.

In the US research study mentioned above, most women don’t regret having an abortion, with 84% having either positive feelings 5 years later or no feelings at all.

Self-help strategies

It may help to try some of these techniques to help process your feelings after abortion:

  • write down your feelings: putting your feelings down onto paper may help. If that seems too overwhelming, try 10 minutes at a time and write everything that comes into your head. Take yourself back to when you made the decision and write down the reasons you wanted an abortion

  • be kind to yourself: imagine you’re talking to a friend who has been through an abortion. What would you say to them?

  • go easy on yourself: take time off work and rest if you need to

  • speak to someone you trust: that could be a friend or family member, of you may find it helpful to get in touch with support groups, such as

    Planned Parenthood
    or
    Exhale Pro-Voice

  • exercise when you feel ready: physical activity can be a great mood booster so try doing something gentle when you feel ready, such as a walk around the block. It’s usually best to wait until after the first week post-abortion before doing intenstive exercise

When to see a doctor

If you’re experiencing mental health problems such as post abortion depression or you’re struggling with your emotions after abortion, see your doctor or contact your abortion provider for support. It’s also important to speak to a doctor if your friends or family feel concerned about you.

They can refer you for counselling or may prescribe medication such as antidepressants.

If you feel

suicidal
, you should immediately go to the emergency room.

As well as your mental health, there are also physical symptoms to watch out for after abortion. To find out more, read our article,

Abortion explained
.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.