Media has a critical role to play in ending abortion stigma. By framing messages in a stigmatising language, media are often perpetuating myths and stereotypes that can contribute to abortion stigma.
In June 2019, the High Court of Kenya declared the withdrawal of the Standards and Guidelines for Reducing Morbidity and Mortality from Unsafe abortion and the ban on safe abortion trainings for health care professionals as unconstitutional. This was a welcome move by many pro-choice advocates the world over. The celebration was short lived however, as the media reporting on the ruling was alarmist and driven more by the subjective views of individual reporters rather than the facts of the case. “Abortion remains Illegal in Kenya” read one headline. “Quandary over Abortion after Judge Gives Verdict” declared another. One newspaper ran a feature story where a woman was quoted saying: “After seven abortions, I had nightmares and could hear babies crying in my sleep”. Such news headlines are not only biased, but also provide grounds for abortion stigma to thrive.
The Berkeley Media Studies Group observes that in many countries, media have a tendency to give biased reporting on abortion stories and treat abortion as a political rather than a health issue. In addition, they often use alarmist, sensationalist titles as //clickbait in order to drive traffic without thinking of the dehumanising consequences. This does not only perpetuate myths about abortion, it also makes factual information difficult to obtain – leading to increased cases of unsafe abortions and abortion stigma.
Abortion Stigma in The Digital Age
According to the FP2020 Catalysing Progress report, access to quality, timely and accurate information can go a long way in enabling women and girls to make informed choices about their bodies, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). We live in a digital era where information is mostly sourced from the internet, and websites like safe2choose, HowToUseAbortionPill and FindMyMethod are excellent resources for anybody looking for information on abortion.
The role of digital media in today’s society cannot be downplayed. Studies such as Youth Net’s Using Global Media to Reach Youth: The 2002 MTV Staying Alive Campaign show that many young people rely on digital platforms for information on their sexual reproductive health. The ability to anonymously access information and ask questions on “taboo subjects” makes digital platforms attractive to young people in many parts of the world. It is therefore important to ensure that these digital platforms have accurate, non-judgmental, and up-to-date information to help safeguard the youth.
Ending Abortion Stigma Through Media
Digital platforms are great, but they come with a few limitations such as lack of connectivity and costs of buying mobile phones. For many, therefore, mainstream media is their channel and source of information on SRHR matters including abortion.
Mainstream media including print, broadcast and radio have the potential to shape society’s understanding and perceptions of abortion thereby reducing its stigma. It is essential for pro-choice advocates to work closely with reporters and support them in understanding the nuances of the subject, including the tone, wording, the requirement for privacy and how to avoid cultural and abortion stigma.
Participation by media personnel in trainings, conferences and meetings can help address some of the issues. In addition, pro-choice advocates should support journalists in accessing data – research studies or updates on policy amendments – that could help them broaden their understanding of the abortion issue and strengthen their evidence-based reporting. All media stakeholders have a part to play to ensure that coverage of abortion stories is objective and devoid of personal biases, and ideally, each story should be written from a three-sided view and in consultation with pro-choice advocates.
The media has the power to shape the perception of society on many issues. When it comes to abortion stigma, IPPF suggests that destigmatising abortion requires concerted efforts from digital media platforms, journalists and pro choice advocates. There is a clear and urgent need for these three groups to work together to ensure that women and girls have the right information to make informed choices.
You too can play a role in ending abortion stigma by sharing your story on our website. Visit our testimonial page to share your abortion story.