Doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant Ms. Whitney Smith, and professor Dr. Janet M. Turan, in the department of health care organization and policy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, recently investigated what role, if any, social norms and stigma regarding reproductive health outcomes may play in the higher rates of unplanned pregnancies among young women and women in the Southern region of the United States compared with other age groups and areas of the country. UAB co-investigators in the study are department colleagues Dr. Kari White, assistant professor, and Ms. Anna Helova, doctoral student; as well as Ms. Kristi L. Stringer, predoctoral fellow in the department of sociology; and Dr. Tina Simpson, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics.
[Photo: Dr. Janet M. Turan]
[Photo: Ms. Whitney Smith]
Supported by the Society of Family Planning Research Fund, data from 46 low-income women between the ages of 19 and 24 — gleaned during six focus groups and 12 cognitive interviews held from December 2013 to July 2014 in Birmingham, Alabama — were used to explore perceptions regarding unintended pregnancies and related decisions.
“Participants described community expectations that pregnancy occur in the context of monogamous relationships, in which both partners are mature, educated and financially stable. However, respondents reported that unintended pregnancy outside of these circumstances was common, and that the community expected young women faced with unintended pregnancies to bear and raise their children. Women who chose to do so were viewed more positively than were women who chose abortion or adoption. The community generally considered these alternatives to parenting unacceptable, and participants discussed them in terms of negative labels, social judgment and nondisclosure,” observed the researchers.
Study findings suggest that there is a critical need to reduce stigma in order to empower young women to make the best decisions for their reproductive health. (Views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the funding agency.)
“Social Norms and Stigma Regarding Unintended Pregnancy and Pregnancy Decisions: A Qualitative Study of Young Women in Alabama” was published online in May in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.