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Perceived abortion stigma and psychological well-being over five years after receiving or being denied an abortion


OBJECTIVE:To prospectively assess perceptions of abortion stigma after receiving or being denied an abortion over 5 years, the factors associated with perceived abortion stigma, and the effects of perceived abortion stigma on psychological well-being. METHODS:We recruited people seeking abortion from 30 facilities across the US, and interviewed them by phone one week post-abortion seeking, then semiannually for 5 years. We used adjusted mixed effects regression analyses to examine the abortion stigma trajectories of those who obtained an abortion near a facility's gestational age limit (Near-limits) compared to those denied an abortion because they were just over the limit and carried their pregnancies to term (Turnaway-births). RESULTS:Of the 956 people recruited, we removed 28 due to ineligibility or missing data, leaving a final sample of 928. In unadjusted analyses, at one-week post-abortion seeking, over half of those seeking abortion perceived that if others knew they had sought an abortion, they would be looked down upon at least "a little bit" by people close to them (60%) or by people in their community (56%). In longitudinal adjusted analyses, people denied an abortion and who carried their pregnancies to term (Turnaway-birth group) reported significantly lower baseline perceived abortion stigma from people close to them (-0.38; 95% CI, -0.59, -0.16) and from people in their community (0.30; 95% CI, -0.52, -0.08), than Near-limits, differences that remained statistically significant for 1.5 years. Overall perceived abortion stigma declined significantly (p < .001) for both study groups. High perceived abortion stigma at baseline was associated with higher odds of experiencing psychological distress years later (adjusted Odds Ratio, 3.98; 95% CI, 1.39, 11.37). CONCLUSIONS:Most people considering abortion perceive some abortion stigma, which is associated with psychological distress years later.

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