Stigmatizing Abortion


Women who consider carrying through with an abortion face considerable obstacles along their way. The people around them can either help or hinder this process. When peers are unsupportive, discriminatory, or judgmental and stigmatize abortion, pregnant women experience high rates of depression, anxiety, and stress. Although the majority of people who disclose their abortion history receive positive reactions, one in four do not. These women tend to experience a lack of support and can lose close relationships.

We know about some of the long-term impacts of following through with an abortion. We don’t know very much about the stigmatizing experiences of women who want an abortion but cannot get one.

To find out, M. Antonia Biggs and her team studied women who were pregnant and seeking an abortion. They categorized participants into four categories. They categorized women who obtained an abortion within two weeks of the gestational age limit as “near-limits;” women who obtained an abortion during their first-trimester were “first-trimesters.” The final two groups of women were both denied an abortion because they were over the gestational limit. Women categorized as “turnaway-no-births” either experienced a miscarriage or obtained an abortion at a different clinic. Women categorized as “Turnaway-births” carried their fetuses to term.

The figure above shows that all participants perceived high levels of abortion stigma  when they sought an abortion but that these perceptions decreased over the following five-years.

Those who were denied and carried through to term experienced the least amount of stigma, perhaps because they suffered the least shame or guilt. The “turnaway-no-birth” group experienced the highest rates of abortion stigma during the first four years of the study. By the fifth year, all participants experienced a similar level of stigma. Regardless of their categorization, those who experienced the highest levels of stigma experienced the most psychological distress.

Databyte via M.A. Biggs, K. Brown, D. Greene Foster. “Perceived abortion stigma and psychological well-being over five years after receiving or being denied an abortion.” PLOS One. 29 January 2020.