Abortion stigma and young people – let’s talk about it


As young leaders for sexual and reproductive health and rights, we see the negative impact of abortion and sexuality stigma every day: restrictive laws and policies, health-care providers who deter young people from using reproductive health services, and little community support for young leaders such as ourselves, simply because we are young.

Girls and young women are more likely to delay seeking help for abortion-related complications than older women, and account for approximately 46 percent of the estimated unsafe abortion-related deaths globally1. Girls and young women in every country—regardless of the legal status of abortion—are shamed for seeking or having an abortion. Communities around the world isolate, stereotype, and discriminate against girls and young women who need abortion services.

As abortion advocates, we know that globally, highly criminalized and unsafe abortion burdens girls and young women disproportionately. This stigma prompts secrecy, silence, and shame—all of which can lead to delayed care, increased health risk, and, in some instances, can result in life-threatening ways to end an unwanted pregnancy.

Earlier this year, a 16-year-old junior high school student in Bogoso, the Western Region of Ghana, died after consuming a homemade concoction in an attempt to terminate her pregnancy. Even though Ghana has one of Africa’s most progressive and liberal abortion laws, the way abortion stigma manifests in silence and a lack of knowledge leads women and girls to seek abortion care without community support or knowledge. They do not know where to turn for help or services. Had it not been for that stigma, this adolescent girl might have chosen to walk into a health facility to seek safe and legal abortion care.

Ipas is working each day to increase young people’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to amplify our voices for safe and legal abortion everywhere. In Ghana, for instance, we work to reduce abortion stigma by ensuring that young leaders are visible in the media and are present in health facilities to talk about and normalize the right to safe abortion for girls and young women. Hopefully, this will help to make tragic deaths like the one in Bogoso—and other injustices associated with young people and abortion stigma—a thing of the past.

We call on all organizations, networks, and coalitions to share how you work with young people to understand, reduce and mitigate abortion stigma!

We want to hear from you! Leave a comment below and join the discussion on youth and abortion stigma on the inroads Collaboration workspace with your fellow members.

  1. Unsafe abortion differentials in 2008 by age and developing country region: High burden among young women. Iqbal H Shah, Elisabeth Åhman.Reproductive Health Matters, 20 (39): 169-173. (June 2012)