Enacted abortion stigma in the United States

Sarah K. Cowan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Rationale Abortion is a common medical procedure at the center of political debate. Yet, abortion stigma at the individual level is under-researched; the nascent research on abortion stigma has not yet documented enacted (experienced) stigma instead capturing anticipated or internalized stigma. Objective This study documents how women and men who disclosed abortions perceived others’ reactions and determinants of those perceptions. Method The study uses the American Miscarriage and Abortion Communication Survey, a survey representative of American-resident adults. Data from the sub-sample who had personal experience with abortion were analyzed (total sample, N = 1640; abortion disclosure sub-sample, n = 179). The survey captured each disclosure of the most recent abortion. Respondents had eight possible choices for articulating how the listener reacted. Cluster analyses grouped these reactions. Multinomial logistic regression identified predictors of the perceived reactions. Ordinal logistic regression revealed which disclosers perceived exclusively negative reactions, exclusively positive reactions, and a mix of negative and positive reactions. Results Each disclosure fell into one of three clusters: negative reaction, supportive reaction or sympathetic reaction. The majority of abortion disclosures received largely positive reactions (32.6% were characterized as supportive and 40.6% were characterized as sympathetic). A substantial minority of disclosures received a negative reaction (26.8%). The perceived valence of the reaction is predicted, in part, by to whom the disclosure was made and why. Across all their disclosures, most people disclosing an abortion history perceived only positive reactions (58.3%). A substantial minority of people perceived either exclusively negative reactions (7.6%) or a mix of negative and positive reactions (34.1%). Ordinal logistic regression (with people as the unit of analysis) showed perceived reactions are predicted by the number of disclosures made and the revealer's race and income. Conclusion Whereas most people disclosing an abortion received support or sympathy, a substantial minority received stigmatizing reactions, which could plausibly have a negative impact on health.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)259-268
    Number of pages10
    JournalSocial Science and Medicine
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


    • Abortion
    • Stigma
    • United States

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Health(social science)
    • History and Philosophy of Science


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