Aim. This paper reports a study of women's responses to abortion over an extended time.
Background. Most studies of postabortion responses do not portray what women experience over an extended time period, since many only use a 24 month follow-up period. Results from previous studies indicate that women have thoughts about their abortion that they suppress or find intrusive.
Method. Sixteen women who had chosen to terminate a pregnancy for non-medical reasons at least 15 years previously were interviewed during the years 1999–2001. This phenomenological study revealed their responses to and thoughts about their abortion(s).
Findings. Each of the women spoke about thinking of their abortion(s) at varied times. The abortion(s) was/were not a time-limited event; instead thoughts, emotions, and insights about the meaning of these experiences were on-going, as life events unfolded. The past reached into the present in varied ways and at unplanned times. Difficulties with subsequent pregnancies, life milestones, and mundane occurrences involving friends' children were common triggers for recurring thoughts about past abortions. These recurrent thoughts had characteristics of avoidance or suppression and intrusion.
Conclusion. When taking an obstetric history, nurses and midwives should be sensitive when inquiring about discrepancies between the number of times a woman has been pregnant and the number of living children. Opportunity should be given for a woman to discuss in a safe, non-judgmental environment any emotions or thoughts she may express. Providers of women's healthcare services must reflect about ways to reassure women of the common nature of recurrent thoughts and the spectrum of emotional responses that, even years later, is normal.