objective: to assess emotional and social aspects in the experience of abortion and the diagnosis of major depression, comparing women from two brazilian cities (s？o paulo - sp, natal - rn). methods: a transversal study was carried out from january 2009 to may 2010, through semi-directed interviews with women undergoing an abortion (up to 22 weeks gestation) treated at university hospitals in s？o paulo - sp (n = 166) and natal - rn (n = 150). the portuguese version of the primary care evaluation of mental disorders (prime-md) instrument was applied for the diagnosis of depression. results: there was no significant difference (p = 0.223) in the proportion of induced abortions when comparing the two capital cities: natal (7.3%) and s？o paulo (12.0%). the diagnosis of depression was high among women undergoing an abortion and was significantly higher in natal than in s？o paulo (50.7% vs. 32.5%, p < 0.01). regarding emotional aspects, there was no difference in the occurrence of guilt feelings (natal 27.7%; s？o paulo 23.3%; p = 0.447). the partner's involvement was considered satisfactory by women in similar proportions in the two capitals (natal 62.0%; s？o paulo 59.0%, p = 0.576). no difference was found in the proportion of women who reported violence, related or not to the abortion (natal 22.9%; s？o paulo 16.6%; p = 0.378). conclusion: although there was no difference between the emotional and social aspects in the comparison between the two capitals, there was a high proportion of women with major depression, more frequent in the city of natal than in s？o paulo, which demonstrates the importance of psychosocial support in the women's healthcare system.