September 28, Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion
Fight #AbortionStigma & Discrimination!
The negative impact of myths surrounding abortion on individuals’ sexual and reproductive rights.
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One of the ways in which abortion-related stigma plays an ongoing role in the social, medical, and legal marginalization of abortion care worldwide,(1) is through the propagation of myths and misinformation surrounding abortion.
A few examples of these myths are:
- “Abortion is dangerous.”(2)
- “Abortion is traumatic and causes mental suffering.”(3)
- “Abortion causes breast cancer.”(4)
An abundance of scientifically-sound and evidence-based studies refute misinformation about abortion, from the falsehood that abortion causes breast cancer to the notion of a “post-abortion syndrome,”(5) among other abortion-related myths. However, myths and misinformation surrounding abortion continue to be created and propagated, either:
- intentionally by those opposed to abortion’s availability and legality, in order to limit individuals’ sexual and reproductive rights; or
- sometimes unintentionally, in settings where access to accurate and evidence-based information surrounding abortion is limited.
In turn, these myths are one of the primary elements that feed and perpetuate further stigma and discrimination, limiting the availability and accessibility of comprehensive abortion information, care, and services. In some cases, falsehoods surrounding abortion, often based on studies that have serious methodological flaws, have been asserted repeatedly for years; but repetition and even acceptance by members of society does not make them true.(6) And whether intentional or unintentional, these distortions of science and good health practices have a detrimental effect on women’s health, rights and lives.(7) Some of the detrimental ways in which myths surrounding abortion work are:
- Myths foster ignorance, fear and silence, all of which feed abortion stigma and discrimination;
- Myths perpetuate misinformation, stigmatize the procedure, render safe and legal abortion care inaccessible, and drive individuals towards clandestine and unsafe alternatives, or force them to carry unwanted pregnancies;
- Myths promote further discrimination against those who seek abortions and those who provide them.
Myths, which have no basis in truth, eventually fade away with the passing of those who perpetuate them and in the face of reality and fact. In the meantime, however, they create perils where none should exist, where they not only to limit access to basic health services, but also create and/or perpetuate an environment where women’s choices are not their own to make, where they are denied meaningful decision-making power and control over their lives, and where their human rights are violated.
It is high time we #BustTheMyths surrounding abortion, and start considering access to safe and legal abortion for what it is: a safe and integral component of healthcare services, a necessary social good, and a human right!
(2) Reality: when done in safe and/or legal settings, less than 1% of abortions result in serious complications. See Ipas (2010), The evidence speaks for itself: Ten facts about abortion; Guttmacher Institute, Are You In the Know? Abortion Safety.
(3) Reality: relevant expert bodies, such as the American Psychological Association, have stated that “there is no such thing as “post-abortion syndrome.” See Guttmacher Institute (2011), Abortion and Mental Health; American Psychological Association, APA Task-Force on Mental Health and abortion.
(4) Reality: Health experts in the breast cancer field have determined that “the totality of worldwide epidemiological evidence indicates that pregnancies ending as either spontaneous or induced abortions do not have adverse effects on women’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.” See Grimes, David Robert (2015), A scientist weighs up the five main anti-abortion arguments, The Guardian 12 August 2015.
(5) American Psychological Association (2008), APA Task Force Finds Single Abortion Not a Threat to Women’s Mental Health.
(6) Cohen, Susan A. (2006), Abortion and Mental Health: Myths and Realities, Guttmacher Policy Review, 9(3).
(7) Hessini, Leila, Abortion Stigma is Simply Discrimination, Reality Check, 2012 http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/10/22/abortion-stigma-is-simply-discrimination/