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Avoiding Abortion Stigma: How the “Invisibilization Labour” Reinforces the Procreative Labour

Laurine Thizy

Research Framework: Given that abortion remains a social stigma, this paper analyzes how women who experiment a first pregnancy termination use invisibilization strategies to avoid stigma.

Objectives: We show how the “invisibilization labour” developed by women who have had an abortion (management of secrecy, concealment of the signs of pregnancy, of the care process and of the abortion…) strenghtens the procreative labour to which women are assigned. In this way, this “invisibilization labour” contributes to the reproduction of gendered asymmetries.

Methodology: Data were collected by a combination of semi-structured interviews with women aged from 17 to 38, whose first pregnancy resulted in an abortion (n=49), and also of ethnographical observations in several abortion centers in France.

Results: Making abortion invisible means controlling speech. Abortion disclosure occurs with female peers, such as friends or mothers for the younger ones. Sex partners are ambiguous allies, especially when the relationship is unstable. It also means controlling action by justifying absences from work and school in order to avoid sexual stigma. At home, concealing abortion is not so easy, because it is difficult to hide pregnancy symptoms and signs of medical care. In hospitals, the abortion stigma rather stems from contraceptive failure.

Conclusion: To protect themselves from abortion stigma, women who had their pregnancy terminated implement an “invisibilization labor”. The particular form taken by that labor depends on the woman’s social characteristics (age, marital status) and the types of stigma (sexuality, representation of the fetus, contraceptive failure).

Contribution: Viewed from the perspective of materialist gender sociology, this paper contributes to the analysis of abortion stigma that puts emphasis on women’s reproductive labour.