In many of the countries where we work, abortion stigma is pervasive and damaging to women and communities. It leads to the social, medical and legal marginalization of abortion care and is a barrier to safe services.
Perhaps most dangerously, the silencing, shaming and marginalizing of women who seek abortion prevents them from accessing safe information and services, and from sharing their knowledge about how to access safe services after they have had an abortion.
Additionally, abortion stigma can cause isolation, stress and fear for all of those who work in abortion care, including clinicians, receptionists, counselors and others.
How does this play out for our clients?
One client, Jane, was living in one of Nairobi’s heavily populated slums when she became pregnant at age 14. With few resources and desperate to provide for her siblings, she decided to drink concentrated tea leaves in an effort to end the pregnancy.
After Jane drank the tea, she bled for several hours, but was scared to tell friends or family about her attempted abortion. She eventually made it to a Marie Stopes center, where she received the life-saving care she needed to survive.
But Jane was one of the fortunate ones. The more stigma women face from their communities and providers, the harder it is for them to seek our care.
What is MSI doing to address abortion stigma, and how can we do more?
One of the best ways of combatting abortion stigma is to provide safe abortion services that are client centered and free of judgement. In countries where access to safe abortion is highly restricted by law, we provide post-abortion care to clients who have already experienced an unsafe termination.
MSI is also combatting abortion stigma by ensuring our providers receive support to help combat the stigma they experience everyday through their work. By offering our service providers safe spaces to share and talk, we not only reduce their experiences of stigma and burnout, but also likely improve the quality of experience for our clients.
MSI combats stigma at the policy and institutional level by advocating for the removal of restrictions to accessing services, and by involving policymakers and government representatives in educational activities about the impact of unsafe abortion and values clarification to reduce stigma.
What have we learned through our work in abortion stigma?
Over the past three years, MSI has been working with Ibis Reproductive Health to explore the effects of various interventions on reducing the stigma that abortion providers experience.
This rigorous research, combined with our first-hand experiences providing safe abortion and post-abortion care, helps us combat abortion stigma so that every woman can decide what to do with her body free of judgement.