Normalising abortion: what role can health professionals play?

Maxwell, Karen J.; Hoggart, Lesley; Bloomer, Fiona; Rowlands, Sam and Purcell, Carrie (2020). Normalising abortion: what role can health professionals play? BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsrh-2019-200480

Abstract

Background: Despite being a common gynaecological procedure, abortion continues to be widely stigmatised. The research and medical communities are increasingly considering ways of reducing stigma, and health professionals have a role to play in normalising abortion as part of routine sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH). We sought to investigate how health professionals may normalise abortion and challenge prevailing negative sociocultural narratives.

Methods: As part of the Sexuality and Abortion Stigma Study (SASS), qualitative secondary analysis was conducted on two datasets containing health professionals’ accounts of providing abortion in Scotland and England. A subsample of 20 interviews were subjected to in-depth, thematic analysis.

Results: Four key themes were identified in heath professionals’ accounts: (1) encountering resistance to abortion from others working in SRH; (2) contending with prevailing negative sociocultural narratives of abortion; (3) enacting overt positivity towards abortion provision; and (4) presenting abortion as part of normal, routine healthcare.

Conclusions: It is clear that negative attitudes toward abortion persist both inside and outside of healthcare systems, and need to be challenged in order to destigmatise those accessing and providing services. Health professionals can play a key role in normalising abortion, through the ways in which they frame their work and present abortion to women they treat, and others more widely. Our analysis suggests a key way to achieve this is by presenting abortion as part of normal, routine SRH, but that appropriate support and structural change are essential for normalisation to become embedded.

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