In the UK, one in three women have at least one abortion in their lifetime. In America, 45% of abortion patients abort more than once. Yet, abortion continues to be stigmatised, affecting women all over the world.

To address why this is so, researchers from the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow in Scotland recently carried out a study on women in Scotland who have had more than one abortion. They also attempted to determine the barriers women face in accessing this healthcare service.

Last month, in America, the Guttmacher Institute also conducted a study exploring why some women have more than one abortion. Both studies found striking similarities.

Trends in abortion in the US, from 1973 to 2014. Photo credit: Guttmacher Institute
Trends in abortion in the US, from 1973 to 2014. Photo credit: Guttmacher Institute

Multiple abortions: Is it really a woman’s fault?

Women often struggle with finding the right contraception. To make matters worse, the burden of contraception falls overwhelmingly on women and the side effects of each can be debilitating and off-putting.

According to the Glasgow study, more often than not, women who seek multiple abortions are already on contraception; but, it has for whatever reason, failed them. This includes immediate contraception such as the pill or condoms. While women could opt for other long-term methods such as contraceptive implants or intrauterine devices – those alternatives could also cause health difficulties.

Women may also experience episodes of intimate partner violence where their partners refuse to use condoms or other forms of contraception. Other times, women choose to undergo abortions for fear of bringing a child into a situation of escalating violence or of severing a relationship with an abusive partner. Past studies have also found that women in abusive relationships are frequently pressured, manipulated or forced to abort pregnancies.

Other factors such as financial situation, career aspirations, education, existing children and not having their own home were also stated by women in the study as reasons for abortion.

Women often struggle with finding the right contraception.
Women often struggle with finding the right contraception.

A severe stigma that shames women for having control over their bodies

The National Network of Abortion Funds in America conducted interviews with women who have had multiple abortions. They found that the stigma the women faced made them feel ashamed, vulnerable and powerless. For women of colour, the struggle is worse as they face racism and deeper barriers to access necessary healthcare.

The Guttmacher researchers discovered that 54% of Black women in the study reported having multiple abortions—a higher percentage than white women or Latinas.

“There’s a stigma in the Black community about being a single parent, being a Baby mama,” Kenya, a 42-year old abortion clinic employee in Texas, said.

“I started to ask myself why I wouldn’t say that I’ve had multiple abortions aloud. Maybe it can help someone else not feel bad about their choices or not feel judged. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. Multiple abortions are necessary, and a lot of women do it,” she added.

“Reduced to statistics or fired out as moral polemic. It’s still so taboo that, for many people, the stakes are seen as too high for them to feel they can share their stories,” said Felicity Morse, a woman who went through two abortions.

I’ve had two abortions. I’ve lived with shame for five years, now I have finally let go,” Morse said. Photo credit: iNews
I’ve had two abortions. I’ve lived with shame for five years, now I have finally let go,” Morse said. Photo credit: iNews

Healthcare industry should also stop stigmatisation

“Fear of judgement stopped me from feeling strong enough to stand up for myself and ask for what I needed at the GPs. I wish I’d known (asked, or been told) that this (contraceptive coil) was an option – and not just for women who have given birth,” Morse said.

In fact, some women are driven to buy abortion pills illegally off the Internet to avoid being judged for returning to the abortion clinic. Many in the Glasgow study admitted to having experienced this negative reaction from healthcare professionals themselves.

The Guttmacher study authors also noted that, “the ability to access abortion care when needed—even if more than once—should be prioritised” especially as there are no known negative health outcomes from having more than one abortion.

Maintaining access to care, regardless of how many abortions a patient may need, they said, was the most important directive as discouraging patients can further affect their mental and physical wellbeing.

“No woman should be deemed irresponsible, feckless, or a failure for needing more than one abortion,” expressed Carrie Purcell, lead author of the Glasgow study. MIMS

Read more:
IUD: The truth behind the most effective—yet, less popular—contraception method
Public health problem: WHO study reveals staggering stats of unsafe abortions worldwide
Will BMA’s proposal to “decriminalise abortion-on-demand” go through; how will it affect Malaysian laws?