Stigma, abortion, and disclosure--findings from a qualitative study

J Sex Med. 2012 Dec;9(12):3137-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02604.x. Epub 2012 Jan 12.


Introduction: This study qualitatively explores perceptions of women who have experienced abortion care. It explores women's journey through abortion from confirmation of pregnancy to post-abortion.

Aim: The study seeks to understand the implications of these perceptions for policy and practice.

Main outcome measures: A qualitative study involving in-depth semi-structured interviews with 17 women, aged between 22 and 57 years, who had undergone legal induced abortion in the UK when they were 16 years or older. Participants were not recruited under the age of 16 because of the ethical and legal complexities of interviewing minors. Additionally, 16 years was deemed to be the most appropriate age as this is the legal age of consent in the UK.

Methods: Participants were recruited from 12 community contraception and sexual health clinics in two NHS trusts, one in England and one in Wales. Participant recruitment was set at a minimum of 12 and participants were recruited on a "first come first served basis" (i.e., the first 12 who contacted the researcher). The number of participants was raised to seventeen as this was the number deemed to be the most suitable for data saturation in this particular qualitative research.

Results: Women in this study understood abortion as highly taboo and a potentially personally stigmatizing event. These perceptions continued to affect disclosure to others, long after the abortion, and affected women's perceptions of the response of others, including society in general, significant others, and health professionals.

Conclusions: Women's experiences of abortion may be influenced by perceived negative social attitudes. Health professionals and abortion service providers might combat the perceived isolation of women undergoing abortion by attending not only to clinical/technical aspects of the procedure but also to women's psychological/emotional sensitivities surrounding the event.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / psychology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted / psychology*
  • Public Opinion
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Social Stigma*
  • Young Adult