Grief Topic

Grief Reactions Associated with Elective Termination of Pregnancy

Abortion for unplanned or unwanted pregnancy is legal in SA and is freely available (with certain legal requirements) through the public health system or for a cost, in the private health system.

Statistics for abortion are very accurate, and current statistics estimate one out of every 3 women in SA will have an abortion at some time in their life.

An abortion is a relatively straightforward procedure and generally is done in day surgery and generally does not cause harmful psychological or physical effects. However, deciding what to do about an unplanned pregnancy can be difficult and can result in many mixed feelings. Being able to talk through your decision-making with a counsellor can be helpful in that it enables a woman to explore the choices she has.

How Do Women Feel After An Abortion?

There is no “right” way to feel after an abortion. Common feelings may be as varied as relief, gratitude, sadness, anger, guilt, confidence, doubt, etc. As there is no right or wrong way to feel, it is important to know that your feelings count, no matter what they are.

Just as there is no ‘right’ way to feel after an abortion, there is no ‘right’ way to cope. Some women may feel a need to make some sort of sense out of their experiences of unplanned pregnancy, of having to make hard choices and of the physical reality of the abortion itself.

Some women may feel they receive mixed messages from society about the rights and wrongs of abortion. For some the issue is a very private matter, and they can feel very alone in coming to terms with the experience. Some women describe a sense of loss. Sometimes a new loss can bring back sadness associated with previous losses.

For many women there may be a mixture of both positive and troubling feelings. When people experience a loss such as abortion, they may need to grieve. They may have feelings of denial, depression, guilt, anger and regret. Grief is a painful but necessary process, and is never smooth. Sometimes feelings of grief do not appear immediately after the abortion but can come months or even years later.

Others, such as family and friends, may not recognise the grief and the need to grieve because they see the abortion as an act of choice. People grieving an abortion can feel very alone.

The male partner and the would-have-been grandparents may also grieve.

Ways To Cope With Grief

  • Sadness and grief can be normal reactions to a crisis such as an unplanned pregnancy.
  • Crying is a normal reaction to grief. Be prepared to feel sad, so it will not come as a surprise.
  • It can be helpful to speak to a supportive person such as a counsellor or GP.
  • Remember that a woman’s needs, goals and plans are important.

Serious Warning Signs

Crying uncontrollably, suffering sleep or eating disturbances, feelings of suicide, and turning to alcohol and drugs, are serious warning signs and should not be ignored. If this happens, it is important to seek the help of a counsellor.

Positive Feelings After An Abortion

Most women feel very relieved when an abortion is over. They can also feel very confident and powerful about themselves, if they can make a rational, mature and responsible decision about themselves and their own bodies.