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Reducing abortion stigma

Research by academics in The Open University’s School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care is helping to challenge stigma surrounding abortion, and improve care given by abortion providers.

Key impacts include:

Raising awareness of the problem of abortion-related stigma, and the need for non-judgemental care, among abortion providers and the medical profession.

Reducing feelings of shame, blame and isolation in women who have abortions.

Raising public awareness of how common abortion is.

What this research does

Women who have an abortion sometimes experience stigma and internalise feelings of shame and blame, a study by Professor Lesley Hoggart and Dr Victoria Newton has established.

Their research has prompted key abortion service providers and professional organisations to work with the academics to proactively challenge abortion stigma.

A consortium was created which currently includes abortion providers (British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Marie Stopes International), national advisory services and policy makers (Public Health England, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, British Society of Abortion Care Providers) and providers of sexual health and contraception (Brook, Family Planning Association).

The consortium has produced MyBodyMyLife­ – a travelling multimedia exhibition, booklet and website ­capturing the stories of women who have had abortions, designed to raise awareness of abortion and to challenge abortion stigma.

These resources are informed by the academics’ research findings, which show that when women having abortions are made aware that abortion is a not uncommon experience, it can reduce their feelings of stigma.

Our research on women’s experiences of abortion has supported a programme of activities which has made strides towards challenging abortion stigma. By establishing the ‘ordinariness’ of abortion, women who experience an abortion do not feel they have transgressed, or that they are alone.

Professor Lesley Hoggart
The Open University

The MyBodyMyLife travelling exhibition has visited public venues in Edinburgh, Oxford, Belfast and London – as well as conferences of medical professionals working in abortion, contraception, obstetrics and gynaecology.

The MyBodyMyLife booklet is now made available electronically to all people (approximately 90,000 per year) when they first contact the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, with hard copies available in all the organisation’s clinic waiting rooms, and at Marie Stopes International clinics.

An independent evaluation report, and feedback from users, have confirmed the positive impact the booklet is having on women attending abortion clinics.

The booklet is also influencing abortion providers, the independent report states, making them more aware of the need to provide sensitive, compassionate and non-judgmental care.

The researchers are now working with the educational charity Brook Learn to help them develop a course on abortion for teachers delivering Relationships and Sex Education in secondary schools.

One of the visitors to the exhibition who had experienced an abortion later submitted her story to the website:

“I am grateful to the exhibition and this portal which has helped me heal. It made me feel I am not the only one. It made me feel connected to strangers who have had this experience and I am ever grateful to you for this.”

Research publications

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