The stigma around abortion is one that compels many women to keep theirs a secret. So it may come as a surprise that the most common reaction from others when women do reveal they've had an abortion is compassion and not scorn.
In fact, a new study found that a majority of women get support and sympathy when they reveal they terminated a pregnancy. Especially when they tell close friends.
Glamour wrote about what Sarah Cowan, an NYU sociologist, found after analyzing data from a survey of Americans who reported on conversations where they disclosed their abortions. More than half, 58.3 percent, of the reactions were positive. Women doing the disclosing categorized listener reactions as sympathetic, supportive or both. Around 30 percent reported a mixed reaction—that is, positive and negative. And only 7 percent said reactions were negative.
This is not what we're led to believe on social media and TV shows, where women who share that they've had abortions are often haraassed and threatened, or shunned from friends and family. In reality, the study finds, talking about abortions is more likely to be a positive experience.
That said, know your audience. The most support came from others who had also had an abortion. Close friends, too, were more likely to be supportive.
Families, however, were more likely than other groups to have a negative reaction to the disclosure. Though, for one respondent, the negativity was because she hadn't told them right away.
Race and gender also mattered whether the disclosure conversation was deemed positive, negative or mixed. Those who identified as Hispanic were more likely to report the conversation had gone negatively, while black non-Hispanic were more likely to report the conversation had been a mix of positive and negative. White people were more likely than other race and ethnic groups to report their conversations had gone mostly positively.
Glamour ask Renee Bracey Sherman, senior public affairs manager for National Network of Abortion Funds, to explain the differences.
”People of color bear the brunt of negative stereotypes of sexuality and pregnancy, thus they are more likely to experience negative reactions to sharing their stories around sex, unintended pregnancy, young parenting and abortion,” Sherman said.
Notable, too, is that there are "no women of color in the media as spokespeople talking about their own abortions," Glamour's Steph Herold writes.
Men also took part in the survey, which found that stigma around abortion hurts them, too. They perceived negative reactions to their own disclosures about taking a women to get an abortion or deciding with their pregnant partner on terminating a pregnancy.
The upshot for Herold, MPH, an activist and social scientist with a background in abortion care, abortion funds and reproductive health advocacy, is that "no matter what anti-abortion activists and politicians might say, the most common reaction is sympathy and support."
This support around abortion challenges the stigma often used to argue against safe abortion and reproductive healthcare access. The study's findings challenges the notion that most people are judgmental when it comes to abortion. In reality, the support and compassion is mostly likely there.