Abortion Safety as Topic of Sociological Studies


Throughout history, abortion has been the concern of medical ethics, philosophy, law and theology. At present, abortion is legalized in multiple countries worldwide, but there are still many restrictions on its implementation. Sociological studies show that about half of all abortions are unsafe, while every third abortion is performed in dangerous circumstances. The research question is why there is still a large number of unsafe abortions. The topic of abortions is essential for investigation as women, including adolescent girls, with unplanned pregnancies often resort to unsafe abortion if they do not have access to safe abortion. Barriers to safe abortion include restrictive laws, limited choice of services, high cost, and stigmatization.

Literature Review

Abortion has been one of the most intensely and publicly discussed problems in the theory of morality. The right to life is considered an inalienable human right, enshrined in international and national legal documents. Opponents of abortion argue that it is impossible to protect a mother’s material and life situation at the expense of depriving another human being of the right to life. Proponents of legal abortion see in it the right to choose, the right of women to control their bodies, and the right to family planning – keeping a child or a humane, legal and safe abortion.

Informal Abortion in Setting Where Abortion is Legal

Unsafe abortion continues to be a problem around the world. Chemlal and Russo (2019) reviewed the literature, examining women’s reasoning for informal termination of pregnancy in countries where abortion is legal. The results show that many women prefer informal abortion because of fear of mistreatment by medical personnel, high costs, long waiting lists, and privacy concerns (Chemlal & Russo, 2019). Thus, unsafe abortions are regarded as a medical, economic and social problem.

Infant Mortality Risk

The problem of abortion is the subject of social debate in the United States. Pabayo et al. (2020) argue that restricting laws on abortion increases infant mortality. The reasons are that such rules and social stigma impede a woman from making healthy decisions about her reproductive system (Pabayo et al., 2020). Woman’s rights to abortion were enshrined at the constitutional level (Pabayo et al., 2020). However, states can independently impose restrictions on the termination of pregnancy.

Laws and Policies on Abortion

The laws on abortion do not meet safety conditions as this medical service is not affordable and accessible. 63% of countries allow abortion to preserve the physical health of women (Berer, 2017). Post-rape abortion is legal in 43% of states, 33% allow termination of pregnancy for social or economic reasons, and only 27% perform an abortion on request (Berer, 2017). Thus, abortion is legal in the vast majority of countries, but the conditions are different.

Social Stigma on Abortion

Abortion may result in deep public disapproval caused by social stigmatization. Condemnation of abortion began to emerge under the influence of religious organizations and ideologists (Makleff et al., 2019). Many women still believe that abortion is a choice that involves sadness, shame, or regret, which is not related to being a good woman (Makleff et al., 2019). Deprivation of females’ right to make decisions about their bodies perpetuates gender and economic inequality, exacerbating stigma and discrimination. Overall, in most states in the developed world, women have a right to make choices. However, in other countries, the high mortality risk from informal abortion persists due to social stigma, restrictive laws, and poor conditions for medical services.

Qualitative Methods Outline

The data sources are photographic materials through which the researcher obtains visual data. The sociological study aims to analyze the main features and patterns of social life, culture, or social structure. Visual data are associated with human activity, on which a person and collectives have left an imprint of their action or presence. Purposive sampling (PS) was used; in social research, PS is applied when the researcher has prior knowledge of the phenomenon under study. The photographs are selected on the basis that they are the most informative; their study of them will ultimately contribute to the research question. PS is used to illustrate existing or generate new research hypotheses.

The sample consists of 15 photos; it is cross-sectional. The selection of images is collected from the world wide web. The keywords used are “abortion restrictive laws”, “ abortion stigmatization”, “abortion high costs”, and “abortion unsafe”. The data restriction used is time limits; the sources are not more than five years old. This is a qualitative content analysis; the research reveals factors that lead women to resort to unsafe abortion. The expected outcomes are evidence of increasing activism against national abortion restricted laws and policies, the financial cost of safe abortion services, the lack of medical abortion services and skilled health care providers, and public attitudes towards abortion and gender equality.


The legalization of abortion has sparked a heated public debate. The first theme is the debates between two social movements regarding abortion: pro-life and pro-choice. The latter is presented more often on the world wide web. Activists of the Pro-Choice movement note that legalizing abortion was an essential step in fighting for women’s rights and personal freedom in the United States. On the contrary, pro-life activists appeal to religion and God. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order that temporarily banned elective medical procedures. The theme relates to abortion directly as the society itself is divided into two large segments with many adherents; however, the prevalent opinion is considered pro-choice.

The second theme is the stigmatization of abortion. Abortion is a taboo word for many women; they try not to pronounce it or replace it with another term, but almost none of the women admits that they have had such an experience. Due to this, many protests emphasize the importance of freedom of choice. Some of the arguments focus on the necessity of abortion: “I have never met a woman yet who has an abortion and ‘wanted’ one.” Thus, shame and social rejection associated with the circumstances of unwanted pregnancy and thinking about the current situation become a constant background in the life of women who find themselves in this challenging situation.

The third theme is the poor access to qualified medical care after the termination of pregnancy and informal abortion. After examining the visual content of unsafe abortion, it has been concluded that Africa has the highest risk of mortality from unsafe abortion. Therefore, the ban on abortion does not improve the demography and quality of life. For instance, in countries where abortion is illegal, women do it by dangerous traditional methods. The conditions where abortion is performed are not clean and hygienic. Women lay down on the floor without any sanitizing instruments. Concerning the images taken from outside, there are many ads on the street with so-called safe abortions. Moreover, underage women in labor are much more likely to die in childbirth than adult women.


Sociological studies have shown that abortions are performed for several reasons. The most common is preventing unwanted pregnancies. The patient may be denied a safe termination of the pregnancy, and as a result, a woman can have a severe risk of death, having resorted to unsafe abortion. This research can be used in practice by impacting the level of awareness of the population by considering the importance of the topic. The main limitation is the possibility of subjective bias in information due to the influence of the attitudes and preferences of the researcher. Future research could be related to sex education, effective contraception, safe, legal induced abortion and timely medical care in case of complications.


Berer, M. (2017). Abortion law and policy around the world: In search of decriminalization. Health and Human Rights, 19(1), 13-27.

Chemlal, S., & Russo, G. (2019). Why do they take the risk? A systematic review of the qualitative literature on informal sector abortions in settings where abortion is legal. BMC women’s health, 19(1), 1-11.

Makleff, S., Wilkins, R., Wachsmann, H., Gupta, D., Wachira, M., Bunde, W., Radhakrishnan, U., Cislaghi, B., & Baum, S. E. (2019). Exploring stigma and social norms in women’s abortion experiences and their expectations of care. Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, 27(3), 50-64.

Pabayo, R., Ehntholt, A., Cook, D. M., Reynolds, M., Muennig, P., & Liu, S. Y. (2020). Laws restricting access to abortion services and infant mortality risk in the United States. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(11), 3773-3790.


Image Analysis

Image number Who created (author) What is depicted Where is it from When Whom
Why was it created How is it portrayed
Saul Loeb Pro-choice activists Washington DC, United States 2020 US citizens, government To demonstrate supporters of legal abortion As active protest
Lucas Jackson Texas Governor Greg Abbott The State of Texas, US 2021 Liberal citizens Texas Governor signed one of the most restrictive laws on abortion As the evidence of restrictive laws in the US
Ted S. Warren Sign “Let God Plan Parenthood” Olympia, Washington DC, US 2019 Pro-life Activists To cover the event of the annual “March for Life.” As an anti-abortion march
AFP-JIJI A woman holds a sign “My body, my choice.” South Korea 2019 Government, citizens To show the ongoing protests in South Korea against abortion laws Women try to convince the point that they have the right to choose not to have a child
Amanda Gore T-shirt “I needed an abortion. I didn’t want an abortion. I needed one. I have never met a woman yet who has had an abortion and wanted one.” Oxford, Great Britain 2017 Students; business To attract attention to abortion stigma through the exhibition of clothing Abortion may not be considered as an option; sometimes, it can be a necessity.
Federico Scoppa A woman lies on the floor, surrounded by a man, a Sister and a baby Zongo Hospital, Democratic Republic of Congo 2017 The international audience, non-profit organizations To show an example of poor conditions where informal abortions are performed. The woman is suffering
from uterus perforation after unsafe abortion
7 Poulomi Basu Massage of women’s belly by herbs and oil India 2017 General audience To show that
abortions unsafe in developing countries
It is an example of traditional method how traditional midwife attempts to induce abortion
8 Amnesty International Street announcements “Safe abortion” with telephone numbers South Africa 2017 Global community; non-profit organizations, government To show the real-life example of spreading illegal and unsafe abortions Multiple announcements emphasizing the safety of abortion but presented as an amateur service