Early one morning I got a call from my childhood friend. It surprised me. She said “Yashu, I need your help, it’s something serious and personal.” Finally I came to know that, one of my friend’s closest friend had an unintended pregnancy and wanted to abort it. Sadly due to some social restrictions and fear of exposure she didn’t dare to seek safe abortion service providers. So they wanted to know about medical abortion from me expecting that I had dealt with these cases closely. The irony was that they themselves were medical students!

Abortion is so highly stigmatized in our society that it seems the stigma is itself ‘communicable’ in the sense that if anyone knew that a girl had an abortion, that person will be stigmatized as well.

Abortion stigma is defined as a shared perception that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable. It is experienced through

  1. Negative attitudes and behaviors related to abortion.
  2. Inferior status experienced by women who seek abortion or who have abortions, the abortion providers and others involved in abortion care.

Abortion stigma has disastrous consequences around the world and as a consequence, people seeking abortions are bullied, shamed, marginalized and sometimes even punished, thus preventing them from seeking safe health care services. Abortion providers are harassed, dehumanized and targeted by regulation and by anti-abortion advocates. Abortion stigma thus leads to social, medical and legal marginalization of abortion care around the world and is a barrier to access to high quality, safe abortion care.

The practice of abortion is as old as society itself! It may be restricted by law and prohibited by certain religions and customs, but the reality is that women have been having abortions for thousands of years and today in fact it is one of the most common and safe medical procedures.

Worldwide, over 40 million women have an abortion every year, despite the prevalence abortion carries a social stigma that affects many people associated with it. As a result of this stigma and lack of access 47,000 women and girls died in 2008 with 5 million being left with injuries or disabilities.

What causes and reinforces this stigma? More on that next week!