Seeking support for abortion online: A qualitative study of women’s experiences

Wilson-Lowe, Rachel; Purcell, Carrie; Lewis, Ruth and McDaid, Lisa (2024). Seeking support for abortion online: A qualitative study of women’s experiences. BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health (Early access).



Introduction: Social support can mitigate the impact of stress and stigma before or after an abortion. However, stigma anticipation can limit access to in-person support. Informal online spaces can offer opportunities to address unmet support needs including by supplementing in-person support lacking within stigmatised contexts. While earlier studies have explored content of posts comprising personal accounts of abortion, little is known about the nuances of how and to what end online spaces are navigated.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted remotely (online or by telephone) with 23 women living in Scotland (aged 20-54), recruited through social media and online advertisements. Reflexive thematic analysis was supported by NVivo12 software.
Results: Key themes: obtaining support that was unavailable from in-person networks; preparation for abortion; reducing feelings of isolation. The majority of participants independently searched online for accounts of abortion, with only three receiving any signposting to specific resources. Without guidance, finding relevant, supportive content was not straightforward. The search process was additionally complicated by the prevalence of abortion stigma online, which generated an additional burden at a potentially challenging time. Those who received direction towards particular resources reported primarily positive online experiences.
Conclusions: While online content could address perceived in-person support gaps, the process of finding supportive content without guidance can be complex. Online searching may also expose women to stigmatising material and interactions. Signposting by abortion services toward well-moderated and trustworthy online resources could be constructive in limiting exposure to stigma and misinformation, while allowing those seeking it to access better support.

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