January 2018

Women’s experiences with unplanned pregnancy and abortion in Kenya: A qualitative study

Jayaweera RT, Ngui FM, Hall KS, Gerdts C. Women’s experiences with unplanned pregnancy and abortion in Kenya: A qualitative study. PLOS One. 2018 Jan 25;13(1):e0191412

Background: Safe and legal abortions are rarely practiced in the public health sector in Kenya, and rates of maternal mortality and morbidity from unsafe abortion is high. Little is known about women’s experiences seeking and accessing abortion in informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya.

Methods: Seven focus group discussions were conducted with a total of 71 women and girls recruited from an informal settlement in Nairobi. The interview guide explored participants’ perceptions of unplanned pregnancy, abortion, and access to sexual and reproductive health information in their community. Thematic analysis of the focus group transcripts was conducted using MAX QDA Release 12.

Results: Participants described a variety of factors that influence women’s experiences with abortion in their communities. According to participants, limited knowledge of sexual and reproductive health information and lack of access to contraception led to unplanned pregnancy among women in their community. Participants cited stigma and loss of opportunities that women with unplanned pregnancies face as the primary reasons why women seek abortions. Participants articulated stigma as the predominant barrier women in their communities face to safe abortion. Other barriers, which were often interrelated to stigma, included lack of education about safe methods of abortion, perceived illegality of abortion, as well as limited access to services, fear of mistreatment, and mistrust of health providers and facilities.

Conclusions: Women in informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya face substantial barriers to regulating their fertility and lack access to safe abortion. Policy makers and reproductive health advocates should support programs that employ harm reduction strategies and increase women’s knowledge of and access to medication abortion outside the formal healthcare system.