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Choosing Abortion for a Serious Fetal Health Issue: From Medical Information to Values

Katrina Kimport (University of California, San Francisco)

Facing Death: Familial Responses to Illness and Death

ISBN: 978-1-80382-264-8, eISBN: 978-1-80382-263-1

Publication date: 16 June 2022


Purpose: Miscarriage is commonly understood as an involuntary, grieve-able pregnancy outcome. Abortion is commonly understood as a voluntary, if stigmatized, pregnancy outcome that people do not typically grieve. This chapter examines a nexus of the involuntary and voluntary: how people who chose abortion following observation of a serious fetal health issue make sense of their experience and process associated emotions.

Design: The author draws on semi-structured interviews with cisgender women who had an observed serious fetal health issue and chose to terminate their pregnancy.

Findings: Findings highlight an initial prioritization of medical knowledge in pregnancy decision-making giving way, in the face of the inherent limits of medical knowability, to a focus on personal and familial values. Abortion represented a way to lessen the prospective suffering of their fetus, for many, and felt like an explicitly moral decision. Respondents felt relief after the abortion as well as a sense of loss. They processed their post-abortion emotions, including grief, in multiple ways, including through viewing – or intentionally not viewing – the remains, community rituals, private actions, and no formalized activity. Throughout respondents’ experiences, the stigmatization of abortion negatively affected their ability to obtain the care they desired and, for some, to emotionally process the overall experience.

Originality/Value: This chapter offers insight into the understudied experience of how people make sense of a serious fetal health issue and illustrates an additional facet of the stigmatization of abortion, namely how stigmatization may complicate people’s pregnancy decision-making process and their post-abortion processing.




I thank Elizabeth Stockton for her research assistance; Rebecca Kriz, Erin Wingo, and Heather Lipkovich for their project assistance; and Erika Christensen, Carmen Landau, and Shelley Sella for their feedback on earlier drafts of the manuscript. This analysis would not be possible without the collaboration of the incredible staff at the recruitment facility and the women who shared their stories with me. Funding for this project came from the Society of Family Planning (SFPRF 11-06) and an anonymous foundation. The sponsors had no involvement in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript; or in the decision to submit the article for publication. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Society of Family Planning Research Fund or the anonymous foundation.


Kimport, K. (2022), "Choosing Abortion for a Serious Fetal Health Issue: From Medical Information to Values", Scott, C.L., Williams, H.M. and Wilder, S. (Ed.) Facing Death: Familial Responses to Illness and Death (Contemporary Perspectives in Family Research, Vol. 19), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 91-118.



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