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What is abortion stigma?

Abortion is a common and safe medical procedure, but it is still surrounded by stigma in our society.

Stigma keeps people silent about their personal experiences, and silence feeds public complacency with political attacks and destructive myths. 

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. When there is a lack of information and knowledge, anti-abortion advocates are all too ready to fill the void with misinformation and even outright false information.

Abortion stigma harms people who have 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.

Research has shown that “Most people considering abortion perceive some abortion stigma, which is associated with psychological distress years later.”

It is on all of us to fight abortion stigma and protect the health and wellbeing of patients before, during, and after their abortions.

Have I contributed to abortion stigma?

Many of us unintentionally perpetuate abortion stigma. Below are some examples of what people might say that perpetuate abortion stigma without intending to cause harm.

“I support abortion, but not in the third trimester.”

This perpetuates abortion stigma because it implies there is a wrong time to have an abortion, when in reality any decision to have an abortion is between a pregnant person and their health care provider. 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.

“I believe in abortion, but not when people use it as birth control.”

This perpetuates abortion stigma because it implies there are moral reasons and immoral reasons to have an 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. There is no acceptable or unacceptable number of abortions for a person to have if abortion truly carries no stigma.

“I’m pro-choice, but not pro-abortion.”

This, as well as statements that abortions should be “rare,” perpetuates stigma by painting abortion as something to be avoided as much as possible. When we view abortion as something to be avoided, we inherently are stigmatizing the procedure. Being “pro-abortion” is like being “pro-colonoscopy”—it is up to a person and their health care provider to determine if that procedure is right for them.

“Getting an abortion is a difficult decision.”

By assuming the decision to get an abortion is a difficult decision for everyone, we stigmatize it. 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.

Knowledge is power

One of the ways to fight abortion stigma is to know the facts about abortion.

1 in 4 people who can get pregnant will have an abortion in their lifetimes.

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 getting wisdom teeth removed.

Over 95% of people who have had abortions say that they mostly felt relief after their abortion.

Having an abortion means that someone is 4 timesmore 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.

59% of people who have abortions already have at least one child.

Ready to take action?

If you’re ready to act and fight back against abortion stigma, the best way is to talk about abortion! Check out this toolkit for understanding and action from Ipas.

Download the Toolkit

Ending abortion stigma together

Thank you to Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, Inc. and Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, Inc. for their resources on abortion stigma.