Conceptualising abortion stigma

Anuradha Kumar, Leila Hessini, Ellen M H Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


Abortion stigma is widely acknowledged in many countries, but poorly theorised. Although media accounts often evoke abortion stigma as a universal social fact, we suggest that the social production of abortion stigma is profoundly local. Abortion stigma is neither natural nor 'essential' and relies upon power disparities and inequalities for its formation. In this paper, we identify social and political processes that favour the emergence, perpetuation and normalisation of abortion stigma. We hypothesise that abortion transgresses three cherished 'feminine' ideals: perpetual fecundity; the inevitability of motherhood; and instinctive nurturing. We offer examples of how abortion stigma is generated through popular and medical discourses, government and political structures, institutions, communities and via personal interactions. Finally, we propose a research agenda to reveal, measure and map the diverse manifestations of abortion stigma and its impact on women's health.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCulture, Health & Sexuality
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)625-639
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Abortion, Induced
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Stereotyping


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