Challenging the Stigma of Abortion

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision recognizing women’s access to safe and legal abortion as a constitutionally protected right. Perhaps less known, this year also marks the 41st anniversary of Baird v. Eisenstadt, which legalized access to birth control for all women, irrespective of marital status. These legal protections support women’s ability to exercise their reproductive rights, defined as the right to “decide freely and responsibility the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so...to make decisions concerns reproduction free of discrimination, coercion, and violence…” (International Conference on Population and Development [ICPD] Programme of Action-Principles, n.d., Principle 8). However, the existence of reproductive rights does not guarantee the ability to exercise these rights. While recognizing the significant progress that has been made in terms of women’s reproductive rights, for many women in the U.S., the ability to exercise their rights remains contingent on where they live, what they can afford, as well as the impact of perceived, internalized and enacted stigma on women’s healthcare utilization and access. 

Division 35's Committee on Reproductive Issues supports the work of psychologists who strive to enhance the status, health and well-being of women by supporting women’s reproductive health and increasing reproductive freedom. One important way that psychologists can support women’s reproductive health is to challenge stigma associated abortion (and contraception, which was all too recently illustrated in the treatment of Sandra Fluke). The Reproductive Issues Committee has identified the following list of “top three” ways that psychologists can use their training and expertise to challenge these stigmas in the service of enhancing women’s health and well-being.

  1. Research abortion stigma. There is a rich body of psychological theory and research on stigma that can be used to better understand and challenge the stigma of abortion and contraception. The research possibilities are extensive, including cross-cultural research on abortion stigma, contextual influences on abortion stigma and the study of policies and practices to eliminate stigma.

  2. Talk about your professional work related to abortion. Just as women who undergo abortion may experience stigma, those who research abortion, or whose clinical practice includes pre- and post-abortion counseling, may also experience stigma associated with their work. It is important that psychologists do not let internalized stigma interfere with scholarship and practice in this field. Researchers studying abortion must apply for prestigious grants to research abortion, publish work in mainstream journals in academic psychology and translate research for lay audiences.

  3. Provide psychology trainees with evidence-based knowledge on abortion and mental health. Nearly 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by age 45, yet psychology trainees are unlikely to receive specialized training in behavioral, emotional or contextual influences on reproductive health concerns, including abortion and contraception. Psychologists involved in training the next generation of mental health professionals now have available a growing evidence base to draw upon, including findings from the APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion (PDF, 602KB), to train the next generation of psychologists. Such training will ensure that women receiving mental health care related to unintended pregnancy and/or abortion will receive care that is based on the highest quality research available, rather than gender-based assumptions and attitudes that undergird abortion stigma.

Resources for Research and Training in Reproductive Planning

References

International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action-Principles. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://web.unfpa.org/intercenter/advocating/icpd-poa.htm