Stigma around abortions post-Roe v. Wade

Sophie Li

Sophie Li

Sophie Li, Contributing Writer

On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Two months after this decision, it is an understatement to say that it has had catastrophic effects on abortion access. By September, 18 states will have banned or heavily restricted abortion. Of those 18, nine do not allow exceptions for rape or incest.

The decision disproportionately hurts transgender people and people of color, both of whom already experience economic and healthcare disparities. It has further complicated access to procedures for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies — for example, in Wisconsin, a woman with severe bleeding and risk of infection from an incomplete miscarriage had to wait 10 days before her surgery, or in Texas, where a woman had to carry her dead fetus for two weeks because doctors ordered her to prove lack of fetal viability to avoid legal complications. 

Recent bans have forced pregnant people to cross state borders for abortions, making this difficult decision that much more painful and costly. Having a child can hurt people’s economic stability. After the baby is born, childcare, which is necessary for most working parents, costs up to $1,000 a month, and paid leave is not guaranteed. For those who are not financially prepared for children, not having access to abortions limits their future opportunities.

Anti-choice arguments, expressed by those who call themselves “pro-life,” place the well-being of the supposed “child” over the parent, but it is the health and economic future of a pregnant person that determines a child’s life. Deciding to terminate a pregnancy after considering the realistic living conditions of oneself and one’s potential child based on financial, mental, and emotional states is much more responsible than delivering just for the sake of a fetus’ “life.”

There is no doubt that Dobbs vs Jackson, the 2022 case that overturned Roe, has wreaked major medical and financial hardships for those with uteruses. On top of that, a more subtle but no less significant issue we need to address is the increased stigma surrounding abortions.

While the Dobbs decision has undoubtedly worsened this stigma, it is not new. According to a study published in Women’s Health Issues (WHI), abortion stigma occurs when people who have gotten abortions feel an unspoken shame for undergoing this procedure. They might fear being ostracized by their community or they themselves may believe that abortions are immoral. As a result, they do not discuss it with others, which prevents them from receiving communal support and seeking proper medical care. In 2011, a John Hopkins University survey revealed that two out of three women who got an abortion expected stigma and 58 percent of them wanted to hide it from their friends and family. Those concerns have only increased with the overturn of Roe. 

I have seen many instances in both arguments on social media and conversations in classrooms or hallways where people who have had abortions are shamed. More than once, I have watched online discussions turn ugly as people talking about their abortions endured insults and accusations. I have heard people justify anti-abortion opinions with religious arguments (“only God can take a life”), seemingly ethical ones (“an unborn child deserves to live!”), or with claims that a child was a deserved consequence for having sex. One of the more ridiculous but unfortunately common arguments insisted that since those who were happy to be alive currently would have not wanted their parents to abort them, they should not support other abortions as well.

Targeting others due to personal religious interpretations and unsound “ethical” beliefs is both harmful and self-centered. There are many factors behind an abortion, and whether they be medical, emotional, financial, or otherwise, it is close-minded to assume that someone needs an abortion due to unprotected sex. Vilifying people who dare to control their own bodies and forcing them to justify their private affairs incentivizes people to hide abortions for fear of public disaproval, and comments like these only exacerbate this culture of shame. 

Increased abortion restrictions will add to the cyclical nature of this secrecy; people who get abortions have a harder time finding support for their decision. Stigma does not only extend to people who provide abortions, including pro-choice doctors who have been isolated from their coworkers and families; partners of pregnant people are also ostracized for supporting the abortion. 

People, including some of my teachers and peers at school, shy away from the topic, refusing to even say the word ‘abortion.’ Even those who have not had an abortion are discouraged from discussing the subject to avoid the judgement that they have seen others endure or have internalized. While I can understand this fear, it’s frustrating to see an alarming number of people ignore such an important topic. 

Some of my classmates did not even know about Roe, let alone Dobbs. It is worrying that those of us privileged enough to not have to worry about abortions were completely unconcerned about the effects of the Dobbs decision. Ignorance can easily lead to misconceptions and become another factor contributing to stigma, and our silence only perpetuates this cycle of stigmatization and secrecy. When barely anyone talks about abortion or Roe v. Wade, it makes the topic itself seem insignificant. 

The Horace Mann community needs to become more aware. Read the news. Educate yourself on ‘taboo’ topics such as abortion. Listen to others’ experiences. We live in states with legalized abortion, but we are not free from the stigma surrounding it. Stigmatization is a complex and widespread social process; to fight it, we must learn to be open minded and have challenging but necessary conversations about abortion.