Department of Family Therapy Dissertations and Applied Clinical Projects

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Family Therapy


Christopher F. Burnett

Committee Member

Tommie V. Boyd

Committee Member

Martha Gonzalez Marquez


The United States Supreme Court decision in the Roe v. Wade (1973) case provides women with a right to privacy and the liberty to make decisions concerning their reproductive lives. With this, women who become pregnant are offered the right to choose between keeping their pregnancy and terminating the pregnancy by way of abortion. Since Roe v. Wade (1973), many women have exercised their reproductive liberties, as evidenced by the termination of over 60 million pregnancies via legal abortion in the United States. Still, secrecy among women with a history of abortion remains a common phenomenon. Studies conducted on abortion and reasons for abortion are innumerable and literature on reasons women keep abortion secret are readily available. However, research lacks in the area of examining the lived experience of women with history of abortion secret. Thus, this research examines this phenomenon from women’s lived experiences and the effects of the secret on their relationship(s) when kept from at least one person(s) with whom the post-abortive women are/were in relationship.

Purposive sampling was used to select five female participants for this study. To examine participants’ lived experience with abortion secret history as it relates to its effects on relationship(s), the researcher employed qualitative method Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) in conjunction with Bowen Family Systems Theory approach. Seven superordinate themes emerged from the data analysis: self-sacrifice, emotional aftermath of abortion secret; secrecy as protection; dance of anxiety; effects on relationships; generational experiences; and, finding freedom. The collaborative use of IPA and Family Systems Theory provided an understanding of participants’ experiences, the effects of the secret on participants, as well as their emotional systems. The data collected added to the limited research available on this phenomenon providing space for post-abortive women’s secrecy experience to be heard.