In Argentina, a group of feminist activists, the Socorristas en Red, provide information and accompaniment to people seeking abortions, including beyond 13 weeks gestation. Recently-released WHO guidelines for abortion care acknowledge that abortion trajectories vary and people may seek services and support from a range of settings in the process of an abortion. It follows, therefore, that people who self manage abortions beyond 13 weeks with the support of accompaniment groups may interact with health professionals in the public and/or private sector. Understanding the reasons for and experiences with these interactions can help to inform best practice.
In 2016, we conducted 23 exploratory interviews among women who self managed abortions beyond 13 weeks gestation accompanied by Socorristas, to understand healthcare-seeking decisions and experiences. We used narrative inquiry as an interview technique and coded interviews using first a holistic coding and, second, a content analysis technique to identify emergent themes in the text and subsequently identify themes relevant to study aims.
We found that many participants had disclosed their abortion intentions to health professionals prior to their abortions. Some were provided with emotional support and referrals to the Socorristas, while others were admonished and warned of serious health consequences. Most participants sought post-abortion care in public or private-sector health facilities; for fear of legal repercussions, many participants did not share that they had used abortion medications with post-abortion care providers. During care seeking, some participants reported poor treatment, in several cases because they were suspected of inducing abortion, while others reported supportive care from health professionals who had previously-established relationships with the Socorristas.
This study illuminates the important role that supportive health professionals can play to ensure that, regardless of the trajectory of an abortion, people feel comfortable accessing clinical services during their abortion process, even in restrictive settings. Feminist activists can help build bridges with the medical system to ensure that providers who interact with people seeking abortion-related services are empathic, understand their legal rights, and provide supportive care.