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Normalising abortion: what role can health professionals play?
  1. Karen J Maxwell1,
  2. Lesley Hoggart2,
  3. Fiona Bloomer3,
  4. Sam Rowlands4,
  5. Carrie Purcell1
  1. 1MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2Faculty of Health and Social Care, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  3. 3Institute for Research in Social Sciences, Ulster University—Jordanstown Campus, Newtownabbey, UK
  4. 4Faculty of Health and Social Science, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Carrie Purcell, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G2 3AX, UK; carrie.purcell{at}


Background Despite being a common gynaecological procedure, abortion continues to be widely stigmatised. The research and medical communities are increasingly considering ways of reducing stigma, and health professionals have a role to play in normalising abortion as part of routine sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH). We sought to investigate how health professionals may normalise abortion and challenge prevailing negative sociocultural narratives.

Methods As part of the Sexuality and Abortion Stigma Study (SASS), qualitative secondary analysis was conducted on two datasets containing health professionals’ accounts of providing abortion in Scotland and England. A subsample of 20 interviews were subjected to in-depth, thematic analysis.

Results Four key themes were identified in heath professionals’ accounts: (1) encountering resistance to abortion from others working in SRH; (2) contending with prevailing negative sociocultural narratives of abortion; (3) enacting overt positivity towards abortion provision; and (4) presenting abortion as part of normal, routine healthcare.

Conclusions It is clear that negative attitudes toward abortion persist both inside and outside of healthcare systems, and need to be challenged in order to destigmatise those accessing and providing services. Health professionals can play a key role in normalising abortion, through the ways in which they frame their work and present abortion to women they treat, and others more widely. Our analysis suggests a key way to achieve this is by presenting abortion as part of normal, routine SRH, but that appropriate support and structural change are essential for normalisation to become embedded.

  • abortion
  • stigma
  • normalisation
  • qualitative research
  • reproductive health politics
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  • Twitter @karenmaxSPHSU, @drhoggart, @rowlands999, @DrCarrieP

  • Contributors CP (study PI), LH, FB and SR devised and planned the study. Analysis was conducted by KJM in collaboration with CP. KJM and CP devised and drafted the manuscript, which all authors reviewed and commented on. The final submitted manuscript was approved by all authors.

  • Funding The Sexuality and Abortion Stigma Study (SASS) was supported by the Wellcome Trust (grant no. 207878/Z/17/Z) and hosted by the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow (funding codes MC_UU_12017/11 and SPHSU11).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethical approval for the original studies was gained from the primary studies' institutional ethics review committees.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement No data are available. No additional data from this study are available.

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