At Austin Women’s Health Center we understand the complex emotions you might experience after having an abortion. Some women may feel sadness, indifference, anxiety, relief — or all of the above. You might feel guilt or shame which can be compounded by the pressure of social stigma.
We want you to know we are on your side and you are not alone, the faces of women who have had an abortion are all around you – whether they are friends and family, or not. Austin Women’s Health Center is here to support you and help mitigate the effects of abortion stigma.
What Is Abortion Stigma?
Stigma is a deeply complicated issue that varies depending on societal contexts; but, simply put, stigma is about feeling disgraced. When a woman who’s had an abortion feels stigmatized, she may feel like she’s a disgrace to her community, family, society — or all three. Abortion is stigmatized because it challenges the perceived concepts of womanhood and female sexuality.
Who Does It Affect?
Abortion stigma could affect women who have had or are considering an abortion. It’s not uncommon for clinic employees or caregivers who provide abortion to feel stigmatized as well. Finally, individuals who support abortion or are supportive of a woman who’s had an abortion can also feel that societal backlash. To learn more how abortion stigma impacts these specific populations, check out this article – Abortion Stigma: A Reconceptualization of Constituents, Causes, and Consequences – our focus here will be on women who have had an abortion.
How Abortion Stigma Can Affect You
The guilt plus shame compounded by stigma equation can have lasting effects on your psyche. The stigma alone can be detrimental to your self-worth and well-being, undermining your confidence. The dizzying effects of shame and blame could ultimately be destructive to your mental and physical health.
Shame may motivate you to conceal your abortion by any means necessary. Perhaps you’ll pay out of pocket for the procedure because you don’t want to go through insurance, or you might choose a clinic you don’t fully trust because it’s far away from home. You might even resort to a self-induced abortion — your secret is safe but at what cost? Besides, the feelings of guilt can creep up when you least expect them.
You might feel guilty upon learning you’re pregnant or after you book the procedure; but you never expect to feel guilty decades later during an ultrasound checking for uterine fibroids; or at lunch, when the guy in the booth next to you won’t shut up about his stance on women’s health.
While we might not be able to eliminate abortion stigma from social discourse, we have some suggestions to help combat abortion stigma and how to deal with the stress surrounding it.
What’s The Best Way To Defeat Abortion Stigma?
BREAK THE SILENCE — because shame and guilt are internal processes, the best way to release this pressure is to externalize it — so shout it out!
Okay, so you’re not ready to scream, “I had an abortion” off the mountaintops, just yet… well, now you don’t have to (unless you want to) — until then, Shout Your Abortion is here to save the day! SYA is like PostSecret but targeted to nuke abortion stigma. It’s a safe space network created for women to own and tell their stories. All you need to do is write your abortion story on a postcard (you can decorate it, too – if you want) and send it to SYA. You can choose to share your story on SYA’s social media page by checking a box at the top. If you’ve had an abortion at Austin Women’s Health Center and want to participate in the Shout Your Abortion project, please let us know and we will provide you a postcard to write about your feelings.
Find A Support Group — when you are ready — listening to other women who have been through and share your struggle can really make a difference. As you learn to trust the group and you feel their support over time, you might be inspired to share your story out loud, as well. Telling your story aloud to a group is a great step towards breaking the stigma and releasing your shame.
You’ve heard of Pro-Choice, but have you heard of Pro-Voice? Pro-Voice aims to destroy stigma by creating a new approach to conversation, it’s all about creating a safe space through respectful listening and ethical story-sharing.
The Exhale Pro-Voice Community is an excellent resource to find support. Their approach offers nonjudgmental, supportive counseling to individuals with abortion experiences, as well as their partners.
“Exhale’s pro-voice approach to post-abortion support means that we trust and believe the experiences, values and identities of the people who call our talkline. Each person’s abortion story is unique and everyone deserves a place to process it fully. Each of Exhale’s volunteer peer counselors offers compassionate listening, respectful support and encouragement for self-care.” –Susan B. Chorley, Exec. Director @ Exhale
Try Seeing A Counselor or Licensed Therapist — if you are ready to take this step — it could be helpful to speak with a professional, not only for their impartiality but also for their ability to clinically assess your situation. The added bonus of not knowing the clinician is that you may be less likely to feel judged by them, which could help alleviate the pressure of stigma.
Have A Good Support System — this one is crucial — having a strong support system to lean on is essential to mitigating the consequences of abortion stigma. Having trusted family and friends that make you feel loved, safe and free from judgment is an important step to your recovery. They will also prove extremely helpful in the days after the procedure, ensuring you’ve received proper aftercare.
How Can You Deal With The Effects Of Stigma?
EXPRESS YOUR FEELINGS AND TURN THEM INTO ART! There are many ways to do this — aside from writing or journaling — have you considered:
Doing A Solo Show — you don’t need to be a trained actress to do this, you just need a story to tell. We all have a story, so take your journals, your vents, and all your emotions and turn them into a one-woman show where you control the narrative of your life while processing your emotions at the same time. The fun part is you get to tell your story by playing various characters and different versions of yourself throughout your life. The story can be whatever you want, you’re writing it, you’re acting it out and besides, it’s yours.
Creating A Collage — channel your feelings into a collage or maybe even a series of collages paralleling your emotional journey. Let your feelings guide you and as you choose the images and just lose yourself.
Write And Illustrate A Story About Yourself As A Superhero — when we are feeling down and ashamed, it’s easy to forget all the amazing traits we have to be proud of. That’s hard to do when you are focused on telling a story where you’re not only the hero, you’re also a SUPERHERO!
Drawing pictures or creating a collage of yourself as a superhero can help you visualize the things you love about yourself. You may even be surprised with all the wonderful realizations you have about the person you are — now, with your very own comic book, it will be difficult to forget her.
Abortion stigma can be debilitating to our spirit and our vitality, by owning and telling our stories, we externalize and eliminate our shame. Then, woman by woman, bit by bit, we can chip away at the stigmatization of our abortion experiences.