According to the Stigma Toolkit, abortion stigma is “a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable.” Stigma can exist at all levels of our society including media, law, the medical system, schools, religious institutions, and within communities and families.
For many of us who have had abortions in the past or for those who are currently facing a pregnancy decision or an abortion, stigma is one of the most difficult aspects of our experience. We have all heard negative messages about abortion many times, which can lead to:
- judging ourselves and feelings of shame, guilt or fear of regret (although research shows that the vast majority of people feel relief, not regret after abortions)
- fear of being judged which can silence us and stop us from getting the support we need
- having to cope with judgement and shaming from partners, friends, family, coworkers, faith leaders, and others in our communities
On a broader systems level, abortion stigma also contributes to:
- barriers to abortion access
- political and legal challenges to abortion rights
- the perpetuation of harmful myths about abortion
- harassment of those seeking abortions
- violence against abortion clinics and providers
- the proliferation of crisis pregnancy centres, anti-choice organizations that spread fear, shame, and misinformation.
Stigma can make it hard for us to share our stories, but we are not alone. Abortion is a very common experience, and if we talked about it more openly, we would learn that many people around us have had or been involved in them. This isn’t new. Abortion has existed in almost all times, places, and cultures. We may have ideas about what kind of people are involved in abortions, but in reality, the experience of unintended pregnancy and abortion is shared from those of us from every social background, financial status, gender, sexual identity, religion, culture, and ancestry.
Let’s tell the truth of our lives. Let’s put an end to abortion stigma.
We have abortions because we know the importance of bringing children into a good situation where we can care for them well. We have abortions because we need to take care of the children we already have, or our families are complete, or our present circumstances are not right for children. We have them because it is not yet time for our next child, because we have chosen not to have children, or we feel we are not ready to become parents. Whatever our reasons, they are enough.
What you can do to end stigma:
- Name abortion stigma where you see it. Do not let it be taken for granted.
- Normalize abortion. Discuss it as a common and normal life experience, as an ethical choice, as health care. Refuse to treat it as an opinion up for debate.
- Be vocal about how common abortion is. 1 in 3 women has one or more in her lifetime. Trans and nonbinary people have them too.
- Speak positively about abortion and be careful about common language that subtly stigmatizes it. For example, many people speak about abortion being a difficult choice or experience. It sometimes is, and sometimes it is not. The most predominant emotion reported after abortion is relief. What an abortion feels like will depend on the circumstances – including how much stigma someone experiences.
- If you feel comfortable, tell your abortion story. Support others when they tell theirs. You can find places to share stories online including 2plusabortions.com, theabortiondiaries.com, and www.1in3campaign.org
- Let people in your life know that you are a safe person to talk to if they are going through a pregnancy decision or abortion or need to work through something they experienced in the past.
- Follow pro-choice organizations on social media. Share their posts.
- Vote. Know your political candidates’ stance on abortion. If they aren’t clear or aren’t 100 percent supportive of abortion rights, ask them hard questions or let them know you won’t be voting for them for that reason.
- Reclaim the moral high ground from the anti-choice movement – being intentional about when, whether, how, and with whom we parent is a responsible, ethical choice.
- Call out misinformation in the media. Write letters to the editor. Hold them responsible to speaking about abortion in an accurate, respectful way.
- Get involved. You can find links to pro-choice organizations here.
- If you are a teacher or educator, discuss abortion with your students as a common life experience and medical procedure, rather than as an opinion up for debate. This is a good resource for educators.
- If you are a journalist or otherwise part of the media, use that power to speak truthfully about abortion. This guide is helpful.
- Be a myth buster.
- If abortion or pro-choice organizations in your area are being protested, organize counter protests. If there are marches supporting reproductive justice and rights, go if you can. Bring your friends.
- Write your local MLA and/or MP, for example about proposed barriers to abortion; lack of access to abortion in your area; increasing funding to clinics; or about crisis pregnancy centers, demanding that they be investigated and shut down for spreading misinformation.