Abortion is a standard medical procedure practised worldwide, and even then, it is still highly stigmatised in many societies. The stigmatisation of abortion has been a significant factor in increasing the number of unsafe abortions globally. According to the World Health Organisation, 30 women die for every 100,000 unsafe abortions. These statistics are most prevalent in developing countries. This also means that many people in legally restrictive environments or in low-resource settings have been forced to turn to unsafe abortions that have drastic and sometimes fatal effects.
Abortion is a medical procedure. It involves either taking medication or having surgery to end a pregnancy. When abortions are conducted using the correct protocols, they are highly effective and safe. By ending the stigmatisation of abortion, people will have more confidence to seek out safe abortions, lowering the mortality rate associated with abortion.
What Is Abortion Stigma?
Abortion stigma stems from society’s beliefs and attitudes towards abortion. It is the idea that abortion is morally wrong and socially unacceptable. While every society has some kind of stigma related to unsafe abortion, many countries have religion, beliefs, and cultures that further abortion stigma. For example, many religions are against abortion and consider it to be a sin.
Other pro-life organisations also like to push the stigma of “late-term” pregnancies, which leads to false ideas about abortion. They use false language to stigmatise abortion even though medical professionals do not use the terms that the “pro-life” brigade use or have a definition of when a pregnancy is considered to be late.
What Are the Effects of Abortion Stigma?
Women who seek abortions are up against traditional ideals that include the idea that sex is only used for reproduction and that they should remain sexually pure unless engaging in the act for reproductive purposes. These limiting beliefs perpetuate abortion stigma that lead to negative internal and external effects. The internal effects are those that the person seeking an abortion experiences due to society’s view of abortion. These effects can include feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression. Anti-abortion sentiments tend to be internalised, and it can cause severe mental issues. It can also be hard on the person who is seeking an abortion and their mental health since their experiences are often silenced by the community.
In smaller communities, there are also external repercussions that could occur if the women discuss their abortions. For instance, they could be rejected by their families, partners, or even friends. Some women also face criticism and abuse. It may even be dangerous to talk about seeking out or having an abortion in some societies since many women may face harassment, aggression, and discrimination. In fact, there have been many pro-life protesters who harass women and healthcare providers outside abortion clinics.
In many Latin American countries, there have been recent changes in laws that have allowed abortion in certain cases. However, even with the new laws, many women still face stigma. For example, even though Uruguay decriminalised abortion in 2012, women still felt push-back and discrimination from health professionals two years after the laws changed.
Aside from the effects on women, there are also effects of abortion stigma on society.
Abortion stigma perpetuates outdated ideas of gender norms and feminine gender expression. These gender roles include the idea that a woman’s role is to be a mother and that women need to be feminine and pure. It also furthers the belief that sex should only be between married couples for the purpose of having children.
How Are Abortion Providers and Clinics Affected by Abortion Stigma?
In an international survey developed by safe2choose and IPAS, we sought to understand the experiences of abortion companions and providers around the world. The report contains glaring statistics of the stigma also faced by abortion providers. Apart from the societal stigma that abortion providers face, the report found that some of them, depending on the region they live in, are also subjected to general fear of persecution or lack of legal protection in the societies in which they serve. Some reported that the most significant challenges they face are the hostile environments in which they work, legal restrictions, and fear of persecution or lack of legal protection.
The effects of abortion stigma not only affect the women who seek an abortion, but they also affect the healthcare providers who dispense abortion medication. The physicians and other healthcare professionals often get called names and are considered sinful in many countries. There have also been many instances where abortion physicians have been attacked and even sometimes fatally killed. When it comes to abortion challenges, it is important to remember that all people surrounding abortion tend to be negatively affected by abortion stigma as well.
So while we can clearly see the effects of abortion stigma on the healthcare providers, we must understand what this could mean in terms of the abortion provider feeling safe and protected enough to be able to conduct a safe abortion without the fear of persecution, ridicule, and stigma. Abortion providers are only able to provide a safe abortion if they are in situations where they feel their livelihood is safe and society will not judge them for conducting a medical procedure and saving the lives of many people.
What Can We Do About Abortion Stigma?
Although generations of the effects of abortion stigma are unlikely to dissolve overnight, there are still many ways to help prevent stigma. As organisations and healthcare professionals continue to educate the public, women will be more empowered to make their own decisions about their bodies. Those who believe and pass down the stigma may also begin to change their minds about abortion once they hear fact-based evidence about it. At the core, stigma is the main cause of unsafe abortions that have fatal effects.
Pro-choice political groups, organisations, and politicians should also continue to fight for the decriminalisation of abortion so that more people can have access to safe abortion. As safe abortion becomes increasingly common, people will hear more stories about their friends and family members having safe abortions. At safe2choose, we also encourage people to share their stories as it is with the sharing of their stories that they are able to liberate themselves and others. This would also help decrease abortion stigma since there will be fewer people to perpetuate cultural stigma. Over time, support for women in seeking abortion and abortion providers should eliminate abortion stigma and make it safer for women to manage their reproductive health.