Special journal issue highlights new research on abortion stigma

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

US young woman

Abortion stigma is under-researched and few conceptual and methodological tools exist to measure its effects. In an effort to broaden the discussion around abortion stigma and spark further research and critical thinking, Women and Health has published a special issue on abortion stigma compiling articles examining the topic. The special issue was conceptualized and co-edited by Kate Cockrill, Executive Director of the Sea Change program, Leila Hessini and Kristen Shellenberg from Ipas, and Katrina Kimport, Assistant Professor at the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program at the University of California, San Francisco.

“This is a huge step in putting stigma in the center of the frame as opposed to identifying stigma only as a barrier to getting an abortion. We’re taking a closer look at what stigma is, what the consequences of stigma are, and what we can do about it,” says Kate Cockrill.

“This is really an important beginning; abortion stigma needs to be more of a global conversation,” says Leila Hessini, Director of Community Access at Ipas. “For years, researchers, advocates and policymakers have stumbled over stigma in working toward improving women’s reproductive and sexual health and rights,” adds Kristen Shellenberg, Senior Researcher at Ipas.

All articles in the special issue on abortion stigma are open access until March 2015. 

Nickerson, Manski and Dennis interviewed low-income women seeking abortions in four U.S. states and uncovered how individual attitudes often reinforce stigma of women who seek abortions. Sorhaindo and co-authors used focus groups and interviews to explore the stigma experienced by women who had abortions in Mexico across five states and in Mexico City.

Two articles provide new ways of measuring abortion stigma. Shellenberg, Hessini, and Levandowski used focus groups with community members in Ghana and Zambia to develop a scale of attitudes toward abortion in those countries. In the United States, Martin et al. tested an instrument to assess the stigma of abortion among providers.

Three commentaries explore possibilities for reducing stigma. Joffe examined the harassment, regulation and marginalization of abortion providers from mainstream medicine since Roe v.Wade. Alternatively, Cockrill explored a world without stigma and calls for action to develop a collective vision to guide researchers, advocates, and practitioners toward this future. Hessini and colleagues refine the definition of abortion stigma and outline a set of priority questions for future research and programmatic efforts.