Normative female sexuality and abortion stigma: a qualitative secondary analysis study (SASS)

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Worldwide, abortion remains controversial, and highly stigmatised, as it challenges powerful social norms of feminine sexuality, particularly in socio-cultural contexts where women’s moral autonomy is contested. This project examines the relationship between female sexuality and the stigmatisation of abortion, directly addressing femininity, marginalisation and sexual/health rights. A growing body of US-focused scholarship demonstrates that stigma, underpinned by health inequalities, creates barriers for women seeking essential healthcare, and contributes to the medical and social marginalisation of abortion. However, little is known about processes through which narratives of ‘deviant’ female sexuality contribute towards abortion stigma in the UK.

We will review and conduct preliminary qualitative secondary analysis (QSA) on data from 12 qualitative UK studies on abortion (including around 300 unique participants from across the UK). Questions guiding analysis include:

  • how is abortion stigma constituted in narratives of women, providers, and educators
  • what common assumptions regarding female sexuality frame abortion narratives, and how do these relate to stigma
  • how is abortion stigma resisted/challenged/perpetuated
  • how do abortion narratives converge/differ across UK jurisdictions. 

We will explore the potential for structured secondary analysis of existing qualitative datasets to enhance research design for future work, particularly regarding sensitive topics and ‘hard to reach’ populations, and where existing evidence is minimal. Conducting this analysis will enable us to assess the suitability of datasets for secondary analysis and refine a theoretical framework on female sexuality and abortion stigma.

This project has received funding from the Wellcome Trust seed award.


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