Typologies of interactions between abortion seekers and healthcare workers in Australia: a qualitative study exploring the impact of stigma on quality of care

Shelly Makleff (Leading Author), Madeleine Belfrage, Sethini Wickramasinghe, Jane Fisher, Deborah Bateson, Kirsten I. Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: Abortion stigma involves the stereotyping of, discrimination against, and delegitimization of those who seek and provide abortion. Experiences of abortion care are shaped by stigma at the meso (e.g., lack of local providers) and macro (e.g., abortion regulations) levels. Yet abortion stigma and quality of care are often examined separately. This study sought to articulate the impact of abortion stigma on quality of care in the context of healthcare interactions. It did so by characterizing the features of stigmatizing and non-stigmatizing care in the context of macro-level stigma and other structural factors that influence abortion-seeking experiences, including the coronavirus pandemic’s influence on the health system. Methods: This qualitative study comprised in-depth interviews with people who sought abortion across Australia between March 2020 and November 2022, recruited through social media and flyers in clinics. Thematic analysis drew on concepts of micro, meso, and macro stigma and person-centered care. We developed typologies of the interactions between abortion seekers and healthcare workers by analytically grouping together negative and positive experiences to characterize features of stigmatizing and and non-stigmatizing care in the context of macro-level influences. Results: We interviewed 24 abortion seekers and developed five typologies of stigmatizing care: creating barriers; judging; ignoring emotional and information needs; making assumptions; and minimizing interactions. There are five corresponding positive typologies. Macro-level factors, from abortion regulations to rural and pandemic-related health system pressures, contributed to poor experiences in care. Conclusions: The positive experiences in this study illustrate how a lack of stigma enables patient-centered care. The negative experiences reflect the interrelationship between stigmatizing beliefs among healthcare workers, macro-level (policy and regulatory) abortion stigma, and structural health service limitations exacerbated during the pandemic. Interventions are needed to reduce stigmatizing interactions between abortion seekers and healthcare workers, and should also consider macro-level factors that influence the behaviors of healthcare workers and experiences of abortion seekers. Without addressing stigma at multiple levels, equitable access to high-quality abortion care will be difficult to achieve. Efforts to integrate stigma reduction into quality improvement have relevance for maternal and reproductive health services globally.

Original languageEnglish
Article number646
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Abortion
  • Australia
  • Lived experience
  • Qualitative research
  • Quality of care
  • Stigma
  • Structural stigma

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