Understanding abortion stigma

By Sarah Whedon

Webinar image by Anders Abrahamsson week I attended a webinar on Understanding and addressing abortion stigma hosted by ANSIRH and  Ipas. 

Leila Hessini, MA, MPH and Kristen M. Shellenberg, PhD, MPH presented an agenda which included

  • discussing a conceptual model of stigma
  • describing scales for measuring stigma
  • explaining current research on institutional and structural stigma
  • and a Q & A.

The researchers described stigma as a social process and defined abortion stigma specifically as:  

“A negative attribute, ascribed to women who seek to terminate a pregnancy, that ‘marks’ them as inferior to ideals of womanhood.” 

They identified this stigma as resulting from perceived transgression of three global archetypes:
  • sex is solely for procreation, 
  • motherhood is inevitable, 
  • and women instinctively nurture the vulnerable.

The consequences of abortion stigma can be devastating, ranging from feelings of shame to death:

Abortion Stigma <-> Secrecy, silence, denial, shame, guilt <-> Delays, untrained providers, self-induction <-> Poor quality, high cost, abuse, complications, suicide, death

The research on these processes uses a questionnaire which was developed in several steps. They are using this questionnaire to explore institutional and structural abortion stigma at service delivery sites in Kenya, Uganda, Mexico, and India. They want to understand the processes of stigma so that they can develop and implement stigma reduction interventions at the health facility and community levels.

The Q & A included a lot of really juicy questions, including excellent ones about beliefs and values from our friend Darcy and about gender diversity from our own volunteer Renee.

If this work intrigues you, there’s a chance to learn more. On second Tuesdays each month through June ANSIRH and Ipas will be hosting webinars on HIV, sexual, and abortion stigma research. 



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