Making Progress Toward Destigmatizing Abortion


Abortion stigma is a complicated phenomenon. It affects abortion providers, people who have abortions, and even abortion rights activists, all in different ways. Tackling abortion stigma, especially in our current political climate, is a difficult but necessary task.

For people who have abortions, stigma may negatively affect their mental health after an abortion. Stigma also makes it difficult for people to talk about their abortion experiences, even with those they normally trust. For abortion providers, stigma makes it difficult for them to disclose the type of work they do and seek support from their families and communities. Advocates, researchers, and anyone who supports people who have abortions or abortion providers may experience stigma in the form of difficulty finding funding for their research or organization based on their association with abortion.

Scholars and advocates have both spent the last few years defining and documenting abortion stigma among different groups of people. Recently, the Guttmacher Institute released a new study that parses out how different women experience abortion stigma. The researchers found that Catholic and Protestant women experience higher levels of stigma compared to non-religious women, that Black women were less worried about judgment related to their abortion than white women, and that women who had previously given birth had fewer worries about judgment than women who had never given birth.

What can we do with this data? How can we use it to create programs that actually make a dent in abortion stigma? We have clear definitions of abortion stigma and diverse chronicles of how this phenomenon affects different people (although certainly more is needed). What we don’t have is evidence of what interventions work and don’t work to decrease abortion stigma, with whom, and why.

Kate Cockrill at ANSIRH is working on a study called Reading Women’s Lives, in which she recruited 13 women’s book clubs and had them read a book called Choice, which contains 23 non-fiction stories of experiences with pregnancy. Participants took both quantitative and qualitative surveys about their pregnancy history and attitudes toward different reproductive health experiences, including abortion. Trained researchers (myself included) went around the country recording book club discussions of Choice, observing and not directing the conversations. Many book clubs contained at least one person who’d had an abortion, and in most circumstances, that person discussed her experiences, often for the first time. After looking at the surveys, we found that the women who expressed the most prejudicial attitudes toward abortion actually had the most improved attitudes after the discussion of the book, and that these improved attitudes remained four months later. Putting women who haven’t had abortions in contact with women who’ve had abortions in an intimate setting like a book club enabled the reduction of prejudicial attitudes towards abortion (for more on the theoretical basis of this study, read about Gordon Allport’s contact theory).

Of course, book clubs as an area of study are limiting; they are comprised mostly of older, white, and heterosexual cisgender women. We need more interventions like the book club study in diverse contexts, where people are in spaces that encourage openness, curiosity, and empathy. We need to find spaces that enable people to be vulnerable and share their experiences with abortion without feeling like they are putting themselves in danger, emotionally or physically. Creating and nurturing these spaces, in addition to measuring and evaluating stigma reduction programs, will be paramount in figuring out the most effective strategies to reduce abortion stigma.

ANSIRH isn’t the only organization thinking creatively about interventions that decrease abortion stigma. Ipas, Exhale, Advocates for Youth, Preterm Clinic, and the Abortion Conversation Project are all pioneering innovative strategies and programs to reduce stigma around abortion, particularly for people who’ve had personal experiences with abortion. The key to figuring out if any of these interventions are successful will be measurement: Who did the program target? What were their attitudes about abortion before and after the program? Did their attitudes change, and if so, did those changes remain over time? Working together using the data we have now, researchers and advocates can create, measure, and evaluate evidence-based strategies to reduce abortion stigma.

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  • http://twitter.com/heliotrope77 No Blood for Hubris

    The children of mothers who wish they’d never been born do not go on to have happy lives, generally speaking. Note the studies after Roe v Wade showing that fewer unwanted births correlated with a drop in the crime rate.

    Freedom of reproduction is a basic civil right. No one should be in favor of thoughtless random parenthood, much less government-forced birth.

    • HeilMary1

      I should be the poster girl for proof that unwanted children usually lead miserable lives.

      • Jacqueline

        We can’t control our childhoods but we can transcend them. Or we can use them as an excuse to stay miserable. If you’re an adult now, I hope you move past your childhood (oftentimes, it takes therapy- trust me) and enjoy the rest of your life. The first 18 years need not determine the remaining 50+ years.

        • HeilMary1

          I am too ruined (disfigured) to be happy, but warning everyone about toxic religion has become my primary goal.

        • HeilMary1

          I should add that therapy is vastly overrated, especially when many therapists are corrupted by big pharma and the pedophile priest-protecting Catholic Church that blames and drugs molestation victims and their miserable forced childbirth-exploited mothers. Not only will therapy not make my facial scars from family abuse disappear, it will not make strangers stop their looksist insults and it will not make looksist employers hire me. Moreover, the cost of therapy will deplete my limited funds for the very plastic surgery that WILL stop public harassment and hiring discrimination. And my smart avoidance of tardive dyskinesia-, acne-, and weight ballooning-induced psychotropic drugs will achieve some damage control. Many disfigured people have told me that surgeons helped them far more than any headshrinks, and if they were also victimized by cults, whistle blowing was their best vindication.

          • http://twitter.com/Tonks07 Mandy

            Not to mention the horrible history of mental health care in the US. Just being able to find a therapist,get an appoinment with a therapist isn’t a walk in the park here. Plus being able to AFFORD therapy. That shit ain’t always cheap. Not to mention the giant stigma behind theraphy (& mental illness) in general.

            For you people not in the US. Is the stigma behind seeking theraphy and also mental illness as big there or is this a cultural thing here in the US?

        • Arekushieru

          Your comment was insulting to the extreme. How dare you imply that people who are still miserable have only themselves to blame. When, in point of fact, it is people like you who keep them miserable. After all, being told that you are the main architect of your misery, just makes people feel even MORE miserable. Good riddance.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ingrid.heimark.5 Ingrid Heimark

      There are studies that indicates that the most abused children are the ones that were most wanted. Wanted doesn’t always mean Welcome as you are, I know all about that. I know I was planned and wanted, still when I stood up for myself she said this was not why she gave birth to me….

      • cjvg

        Not quite the same as what happened to mary.

        Mothers and fathers will sometimes talk to their kids in a stern manner when not agreeing with their choices, that is not abuse, that is parenting!

        Abuse is something totally different, you should volunteer sometime that will clear up any misunderstanding you have.

        Almost every single child in the system is an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy, I have never come across any severely abused children from which the parents expressed planning and a desiring the pregnancy/child

        I would like to see which studies you are referring too since I have not come across those in 20+ years of clinical research or interviews with victims of pathological family disorders

        • Ingrid Heimark

          Ok, I know what being abused means. I had the courage to stand up for myself, and because of that, my mother HATED me, truly hated me. My pro-choice therapist actually said that even in cases of abuse, my case is extreme. So I know what I am talking about. Consider me the first you know about. Have you ever heard of the Parental bonding index? To be low-caring your mother must be below 24, my mother has 2! You can try to imagine growing up with a mother that washes her hands or changes sweater when touching you, when calling for another child to give hert the remote if I am having it, and who locks the bathroom door so you cannot use the same toilet as the rest of the family for months, after she has beaten you repeatedly.
          That is my childhood. And yes, we are 7 siblings, and yes we were all planned, and yes, she even wanted more. Always neclecting the youngest for the sake of the newcomer after birth. So I know about that. But again, I am using my full name here.
          The study I am talking about, are dr Philip Ney, not neutral on abortion issue, but his findings indicate a 90% of abused children as wanted and planned.
          And yes, this is why I don’t have children, I wanted to finnish therapy first.

          • cjvg

            So you wish this abuse on others?!
            Because most of the existing and evidence, as well as the very public stories of the children that are in the system show clearly that they are not wanted at all!
            But hey, never mind, according to you we can now pile on the wanted children too.
            I guess the more the merrier, misery loves company after all.
            What makes you think this is acceptable to do to a child, you are the exception, most children going through this do not wish to be born, even years later when their lives turn out OK (not a very common occurrence) they still express the wish that they were never born!

            Post the link to the multiple research finding about wanted children being the majority of the abused being wanted children please!

            And no it is not judgmental, you stated your mother did not like you talking back, most teenager do so and immediately conclude that their mother hates them, that is not abuse!

            You now trot out a multitude of other symptoms that you previously not mentioned!
            Were was your father in all this, did he find it acceptable to produce ever more children while this scenario went on?

            Trying to insinuate that your story or arguments hold more value because you are using your full name is dishonest BS
            You claim to be foreign and you do not state what town you are from and your name is extremely common in Norway (I was born in northern Europe) so there is absolutely no added value to your claim that this is your “whole” name

          • Ingrid Heimark

            I was being cautious abot what I said. And of course I don’t want this on others, but abortion is NOT the solution to that! I know that talking back is normal, what is NOT normal is my mothers reaction, her hatred and everything it lead to. My father was too weak, and not homë all the time, he work in the oil sector. And because the poeple that knew never contacted sosial services, noone helped me. here I grew up, “honor thy parents” are the most important of all. If you don’t to bad.
            And since we are on the “not believing a word anyone says that disagree”, you expect me to believe that I am so a rarity that everyone, except me, abused as children are unwanted? The questions isn’t about being wanted or not, but about being welcome. Both wanted and unwanted chidren can risk not being welcome.
            And yes, I have never counsciously lied on this website, I admit some of the things I said about fetal development were not right,. after researching your comments. But let’s say someone I know I googled my name and came up here, well that would not be funny. My first name is common, my combination is not.
            Anyway, you have already decided I lie, so why bother?

          • cjvg

            You have repetitively accused me of being wrong or not factual even when every single medical text out there will confirm any and all statements made on fetal development.

            You have repetitively twisted and misrepresented these same remarks to suit your views on abortion.

            you have repetitively ignored and mocked my statements on fetal development as irrelevant or used one single aspect out of context.

            You displayed clear indications of either not reading my explanation of my views or plainly ignoring them as not something you want to acknowledge

            You have now admitted that you did not even know that my statements on fetal development are accurate and mainstream medical knowledge.

            However that little detail never stopped you from making encompassing broad (inaccurate) statements on fetal development and the morality of personhood and abortion.

            You have never addressed the inconsistency in your view on presumed fetal life versus the actual life of the woman and her rights

            You subsequently , after your previous statements have been proven inaccurate and inconsistent, start on the I’m an abused (wanted) child that loves life anyway so every fetus should be grown to term like me route.

            Excuse me for being skeptical, these ploys are routinely used when all else fails in the face of prevailing medical science.
            You are not the first, second or even 50th commenter who inexplicably and without any previous indication or alluding to same, claims abuse but still extreme love of live so all fetus’s should try it.

            Granted the wanted claim is new and I would like to see your data so I can research the clinical back ground of this highly unusual claim (3rd request for research links)

            I have not found any back up data in my professional journals and private subscriptions (i’am a clinical neurological and pharmaceutical research coordinator who has worked closely with multiple European as well as American hospitals, research facilities and regulatory agencies on both continents)

            I volunteer as a guardian ad litem for abused children to defend their (legal) rights in the courts or during foster and adoption procedures

            The reason I am skeptical is that I do not need to use abuse claims to defend my views, although I legitimately can do so and this is one of the reasons that I feel that strongly about NOT demanding the birth of children that are almost guaranteed to be abused or even killed.

            However, what is even more puzzling is that you insist you were a wanted child that gort abused anyway and you insist that children that are not even wanted should be born also?
            All this regardless of the very evident fact that unwanted children have even worse prospects then you do!

            And yes, abortion is the answer, it is a thousand times more preferable then kids being beaten to death or tortured or passed around to be used and abused.

            Visit a child treated in that way in the hospital sometimes, look them in the eye and tell them “be great full to me, I made sure you were born”
            Look in the eyes of a child that was never without fear for even a day, an hour, a minute in their life an tell me this is an acceptable consequence of you forcing your decisions upon another!

            After you solve that problem you can come back and argue forced birth, but until this still happens in large numbers do not glibly state that “abortion is not the answer”

          • Ingrid Heimark

            Actually, I didn’t use that abuse thing as a argument after loosing on other issues, I wrote it after it was stated so many unwanted children were abused. I simply provided the information that also wanted children are abused. Now, I am NOT saying this link is neutral, far from it, but the numbers i refer to are there. I will post the link in a separate post, as they are moderated on for a long time. Ney states permissive abortion have not reduced child abuse, and that the definitely wanted children that are adopted have an even higher abuse rate than biologiocal children. I really didn’t even intended upon telling my story here.
            When it comes to the issue of fetal development, yes I have learned quite a bit. I truly didn’t know the fetus was not sentient until after viability, I truly believed that being able to yawn, suck the thumb etc was sign of sentiense. But the personhood-discussion has me largely missed, I don’t know whether the fetus should be seen as a person or not, I see it as a human being.
            i do believe in the fetus right to life, but that abortion should be decriminalised for the woman, and I do not believe abortion is the solution to child abuse of those unwanted children abused. I don’t believe that normal people abuse their children simply because they didn’t want them, it takes a special kind of mind to abuse your own flesh and blood, except in cases where the parents are simly too immature. Is abortion the solution to that? No, I believe contraception are the solution to that. I don’t believe in abortion for the sake of the child, there is no logic in taking a fetus’ life in utero simply to avoid it being abused outside.
            And yes, I recognise the woman as a person with rights, and that her interest must override the fetus’ interest when these collide, such as a life-threatening pregnancy. Should the woman however, have an abortion (which I believe the society should not condone) the fetus’ life is already lost, there is absolutelyt nothing to gain from judging or attacking or punishing that woman.I have met post-abortive women, and yes some do get trouble, and I simply don’t wish mental anguish upon anyone. So I don’t believe in adding burden to women that have had abortions, I simply believe the choice to abort should not be a decision to be made. Because I believe in the humanity of the fetus. If believing the fetus is a life makes me the enem,y, then so be it. I support abortion restriction in the law, I don’t believe in judging and punishing women.

          • goatini

            Abortion restriction in the law, IS judging and punishing women.

          • Arekushieru

            In essence, you are saying that the only humanity that matters is that of the fetus. After all, if other’s humanity or life mattered, you would be pushing people to recognize that ANY loss of life demeans someone’s humanity or life. You do not. Normal people with extenuating circumstances, such as the women who typically have abortions, can and DO abuse their children. Like cjvg said, if someone who wanted their children can abuse them, what makes you think it isn’t worse in cases where they are unwanted? I think the woman should be able to make a compassionate choice between whether or not to bring a child up in a life where SHE knows they will be abused, neglected or tortured. SHE, after all, is the one who knows her circumstances best, not you.

          • Ingrid Heimark

            I have said any loss of life is tragic, whey dco you think otherwise? Well, when it comes to wantedness and such, I know that kind of abuse is not nessecarily worse than what I experienced, as my pro-choice therapist that has worked with CPS and courts on abuse, said my story is one of the worst he has ever seen. Also, I don’t find abortion compassionate, it is the ultimate form of abuse, taking the victims life

      • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.kazarian Amanda Kazarian

        You should cite these studies. I worked in the adoption industry, and most babies placed for adoption were abandoned or given up by mothers with drug problems.