What is abortion stigma?

We define abortion stigma as a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable. This stigma can manifest in many ways, including:

  • In the media, when a person who’s had an abortion is stereotyped as selfish or immoral.
  • In policy, where politicians feel empowered to limit access to abortion and discriminate against abortion providers.
  • In institutional settings, where hospitals have policies that prohibit clinicians from providing abortions for fear of anti-abortion protestors.
  • In communities, where faith leaders make sermons about the immorality of abortion as people who’ve had abortions sit in their pews.
  • Within relationships, where a teen may be afraid to tell a friend about her abortion for fear that her friend will judge her.
  • At the individual level, where someone who’s had an abortion may feel guilty for not feeling guilty about their abortion.

Abortion stigma has disastrous consequences around the world.  People seeking abortions are bullied, shamed, marginalized, and sometimes even prevented by law or intimidation from seeking safe health care services. Abortion providers are harassed, dehumanized and targeted by regulation and anti-abortion advocates. Stigma leads to the social, medical, and legal marginalization of abortion care around the world and is a barrier to access to high quality, safe abortion care.

Understanding abortion stigma can help us clarify many questions that the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement has been asking for years.

  • Why is abortion so hard to talk about?
  • Why does getting an abortion often feel illicit and shameful?
  • Why don’t we hear about the abortion experiences of our mothers, sisters, friends?
  • Why are abortion providers targets of violence and marginalized within the medical community?
  • Why is there an extreme level of criminalization and legal scrutiny around abortion worldwide?
  • Why does it feel like securing our reproductive rights is a never ending uphill battle?

Abortion is only one of many stigmatized reproductive experiences. Other stigmatized reproductive experiences can include: miscarriage, infertility, adoption, single-parenthood, teen pregnancy, LGBTQ couples who parent, and more.

A Definition

We define abortion stigma as a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable. Read more in the White Paper we co-authored with Ibis Reproductive Health and ANSIRH.

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Defining abortion stigma and learning interventions can feel overwhelming. Check out these handy one-pagers that will help you better understand what abortion stigma is and how we can shift it.

What is abortion stigma?

How can we measure abortion stigma?

Stigma interventions

Build community

Work to end abortion stigma in your community by hosting a reading group discussion through our Untold Stories Project.

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We created this conceptual model in collaboration with Ibis Reproductive Health and ANSIRH.

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