The experiences of women who have negative emotional outcomes, including regret, following an abortion have received little research attention. Qualitative research can elucidate these women’s experiences and ways their needs can be met and emotional distress reduced.
Twenty-one women who had emotional difficulties related to an abortion participated in semi-structured, in-depth telephone interviews in 2009. Of these, 14 women were recruited from abortion support talklines; seven were recruited from a separate research project on women’s experience of abortion. Transcripts were analyzed using the principles of grounded theory to identify key themes.
Two social aspects of the abortion experience produced, exacerbated or mitigated respondents’ negative emotional experience. Negative outcomes were experienced when the woman did not feel that the abortion was primarily her decision (e.g., because her partner abdicated responsibility for the pregnancy, leaving her feeling as though she had no other choice) or did not feel that she had clear emotional support after the abortion. Evidence also points to a division of labor between women and men regarding pregnancy prevention, abortion and childrearing; as a result, the majority of abortion-related emotional burdens fall on women. Experiencing decisional autonomy or social support reduced respondents’ emotional distress.
Supporting a woman’s abortion decision-making process, addressing the division of labor between women and men regarding pregnancy prevention, abortion and childrearing, and offering nonjudgmental support may guide interventions designed to reduce emotional distress after abortion.
Katrina Kimport is a research sociologist, Kira Foster is a research analyst and Tracy A. Weitz is associate professor and director, all with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, University of California, San Francisco.