207382 A gendered lens on abortion work: Female providers' perspectives and potential impacts on abortion provision

Monday, November 9, 2009: 1:10 PM

Michelle L. Precourt Debbink , School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Lisa A. Martin, PhD , School of Public Health - Health Behavior & Health Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Jane A. Hassinger, DpCSW, MSW , Department of Women's Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Lisa H. Harris, MD, PhD , Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Background/Significance: Immediately after Roe v. Wade, physicians involved in abortion work were predominantly male. Today, most physician providers are women. Abortion providers do societal “dirty work,” a stigmatizing situation that may have impacts on their lives. Shortages of abortion workers have resulted in decreased access to abortion services. Understanding female abortion providers' perspectives could help combat this trend.

Objective/Purpose: We explored the needs of abortion workers, tried to understand the challenges and rewards workers identified in their work, and provided them with an outlet for their experiences.

Methods: We conducted a 6-week focus group intervention with seventeen staff at a Midwestern abortion clinic. Story-telling, journaling and artwork served as expressive methods. Themes in stories/artwork were analyzed using qualitative software. Inter-rater reliability was over 90%.

Results: Gendered themes emerged in providers' narratives, especially for those who were pregnant or had young children. Women providers spoke of vulnerability, fear, and identification with patients, emotions that created stress. They perceived male abortion providers in general as less vulnerable, seeing them as “warriors (in the culture war).” A male physician perceived himself as less vulnerable than his female counterparts, citing his lack of partner or children as a possible cause. Discussing these feelings mitigated participants' fear and vulnerability.

Discussion/Conclusions: This intervention revealed a potentially gendered perspective on being an abortion provider. Results imply that understanding women's perceptions may lead to improved support for abortion workers (e.g., for pregnant providers). Similar interventions could improve support and retention, an encouraging finding that needs future study.

Learning Objectives:
1. Identify key challenges female abortion workers face in the provision of abortions; and 2. Describe ways in which the practice of abortion could be improved to support the needs of female workers.

Keywords: Abortion, Workplace Stressors

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: my graduate studies revolve around gender and public health, and I have been involved in reproductive health research for several years. Classwork and research training has included survey methodology, focus group work, and other relevant topics.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.