Abortion stigma is the set of attitudes and beliefs, conscious or unconscious, that abortion is bad, shameful, or wrong.
What is abortion stigma
Researchers define abortion stigma as “a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable.” Stigma creates discomfort around abortion, which contributes to misinformation and lack of knowledge about abortion. That misinformation and pervasive stigma is weaponized to build and maintain barriers to abortion — like laws that restrict access, institutions (like insurance companies and medical schools) that limit knowledge, and popular media that perpetuates misleading representations. In fact, anti-abortion advocates readily fill this information void with inflammatory dis-information.
Stigma harms people who’ve had abortions and people who provide abortions. It causes shame, silence, and isolation. It makes it harder for people to get care or ask for support when they need an abortion. Stigma perpetuates outdated expectations of gender, contributing to gender norms that harm women, people assigned female at birth, and people with feminine gender expressions.
What is abortion stigma really about?
Abortion stigma is really about “the transgression of a gendered norm.” A gendered norm is another term for the social expectations imposed on women, people assigned female at birth, and people with feminine gender expressions.
These norms include the expectation of sexual purity, or sexuality reserved for reproduction, and the expectation of motherhood and nurturing. Having an abortion shows that someone had sex and did not become a parent. Abortion marks their rejection of specific gendered norms about sex, gender, and parenting.
Anti-abortion messages contribute to abortion stigma, too. It’s very common, including among supporters of abortion, to feel uncomfortable or uncertain about when, why, and at what point in pregnancy it is ok to have an abortion. That discomfort is internalized abortion stigma. The only person who can decide when to have an abortion is the person who’s pregnant. They have the legal and moral right to decide for themselves whether to have an abortion.
What happens during an abortion?
There are two kinds of abortion: medication abortion, or abortion with pills, and in-clinic abortion.
A medication abortion is two doses of pills: mifepristone, which stops a pregnancy from growing, and misoprostol, which empties the uterus. Medication abortion is approved in the US until 10 weeks of pregnancy. Someone will take the first dose by placing the pills in their cheek and letting them dissolve. 24 to 72 hours later, they’ll take the second dose and experience something like a heavy period. After being prescribed by a health care provider, both doses can be taken safely at home. Some people take a day off work or school while they’re having their abortion and can usually return the next day or a few days after.
An in-clinic abortion (sometimes called a “surgical” abortion, though the procedure doesn’t involve surgery) takes place in a clinic, health center, or hospital. During an in-clinic abortion, a provider uses small dilator sticks to dilate, or open, the cervix. Then they’ll use a handheld device to gently remove the contents of the uterus. The whole procedure takes about 5 minutes. After an in-clinic abortion, someone will spend time in a recovery area until they’re ready to leave.
If you’re looking for abortion services, visit ppkeystone.org to book an appointment.
Facts About Abortion
1 in 4 people who can get pregnant will have an abortion
59% of people who have abortions already have at least one child
Over 95% of people who have had abortions say that they mostly felt relief after their abortion
Having an abortion is 14 times safer than giving birth
Having an abortion is one of the safest medical procedures - it's even safer than wisdom teeth removal
Having an abortion means that someone is 4 times more likely to live above the poverty line, complete their planned education, and report higher levels of happiness and emotional wellbeing, compared to someone who was denied an abortion.
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Kinds of Stigma
"No one is pro-abortion" or "I'm pro-choice, not pro-abortion"
Typically it’s people who are supportive of abortion rights who use these phrases, but they both imply that abortion is a bad thing. It’s 100% fine to support abortion — be proud to be pro-abortion.
Abortion providers and the "abortion industry"
Anti-abortion groups make up lies about abortion providers in an attempt to paint abortion as dangerous and providers as greedy and corrupt. Neither of those things are true in any way: abortion is one of the safest medical procedures and abortion providers are compassionate, highly trained health care providers. There is no “abortion industry” as abortion is a standard service in the health care field.
The reality is that for most people, abortion doesn't involve any trauma or negative mental health effects at all. The overwhelming majority of people who’ve had abortions say that they mostly felt relief after their abortions. Abortion is not inherently traumatic, and researchers have found that it does not cause any negative mental health consequences — actually, having an abortion is associated with better mental and physical health.
"Abortion as birth control" and more than one abortion”
It’s absolutely fine to have an abortion, so it’s absolutely fine to have more than one abortion. Since there’s nothing wrong with having one abortion, there’s nothing wrong with having more than one abortion. While contraception prevents pregnancy, abortion ends a pregnancy, so it’s not possible to use abortion as contraception. People who say they don’t approve of “abortion as birth control” typically mean they don’t approve of someone having more than one abortion. But having an abortion is fine and normal, whether or not someone has had abortions before.
"I support abortion, but not in the third trimester" and abortion later in pregnancy
We should trust people and their doctors about when they should get care. A decades-long concerted effort from anti-abortion groups has led many people to feel uncomfortable about abortion later in pregnancy through the use of made-up phrases like "late-term" abortion, which is not a medical phrase and does not exist. There's no medical designation of when "later" in pregnancy, either: the reality is that every pregnancy is different, and people will always need abortions later in pregnancy. Laws that ban abortion later in pregnancy don’t keep people safe; they stigmatize abortion and harm people who need care.
“Adoption, not abortion”
It’s important that someone who’s pregnant and wants to make an adoption plan — giving birth and placing the child with another person or family permanently — receives support and care throughout their pregnancy journey. But adoption shouldn’t be used as a naturally “better alternative” to abortion: encouraging someone to make an adoption plan when they prefer to have an abortion implies that having an abortion is wrong or worse than staying pregnant. Asking “Why can’t people just put their baby up for adoption?” ignores the fact that pregnancy is a major health event with serious health risks and that some people simply don't want to be pregnant. Deciding to have a child, or another child, as well as deciding to be pregnant or not without coercion or stigma is central to full bodily autonomy. People deserve to consider all their pregnancy and parenting options, without the suggestion that abortion is wrong.
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