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October, 2003
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Twenty-six million legal abortions occur each year worldwide. Of these an unknown percentage of women have adverse psychological sequelae. This article reports on interviews with a nonrandom sample of fifty women regarding reproductive history, abortion experiences and emotional responses in the former Soviet Union country of Belarus, where abortions are often used as a primary form of birth control. Both positive and negative responses were queried but emphasis was on cross-cultural comparisons with western samples regarding posttraumatic sequelae, depression, grief and guilt, and using an objective measure of trauma symptoms, the Impact of Events Scale-Revised (IES-R). Comparisons with existing Western literature allowed the question of: Similar to the cross-cultural concept of posttraumatic stress disorder are their possibly universal responses to abortion as well? As in western samples, attachment and recognition of life during pregnancy were present for many women despite choosing abortion, and eightytwo percent of the sample reported posttraumatic sequelae, which is high. Grief, guilt, dissociation, depression, anxiety and psychosomatic responses were also in common across cultures. The authors conclude that despite disparate circumstances and abortion use, women who have adverse responses are very similar across these two divergent cultures. They call for more research using representative samples to learn what percentage of women are likely to have adverse responses and which variables predict negative responses.


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Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. and Natalia Mufel

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown University Medical School, Washington, D.C. and Psychological Consultant for Advances in Health, Mclean VA. She is also Professor of Psychology, Vesalius College, Free University of Brussels. She lived in Belarus with her husband the U.S. Ambassador to Belarus, from 1997 to 2000 during which time this research was conducted at the Belarusian/American Women's Center. Likewise, Dr. Speckhard has conducted research interviews with women regarding their psychological responses to abortion in Romania, Netherlands, Belgium, Belarus, Russia and the United States. Belgian address: 3 Avenue des Fleurs, 1150 Brussels, Belgium. U.S. address: PSC 81, Box 135, APO AE 09724. E-mail: Aspeckhard@brutele.be or Speckhardl@aol.com

Natalia Mufel is Assistant Programme Officer for Early Childhood Development, UNICEF, in Minsk, Belarus. She is a Ph.D. aspirant in Belarusian State University, lectured gender-oriented courses in European Humanities University and wrote the chapter "Women's Health" for the United Nations' report about the state of women in Belarus (2003). She served as psychologist for the Women's Wellness Center, Minsk, Belarus during the time of research. E-mail: mufel@it.org.by

Editor's Note: Collaboration and travel between the researchers was supported by a grant from the NATO Science Programme, Collaborative Linkage Grant No 978603.