Oral Presentation Session - Cosponsored Status Awarded
Sponsored by: Association for Feminist Anthropology
Cosponsored by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Ethics
Secondary Theme: The Political
The abortion debate in the United States cleaves into two familiar camps: “pro-choice” and “pro-life”. These positions often mirror broader political divides and are associated with distinct perspectives regarding reproductive care and policy, religious outlooks, women’s rights, and sexuality. However, the familiarity of this binarism poses a problem for ethnographers working outside of North America, as we risk importing hegemonic understandings about abortion and the regulation of reproduction into contexts in which terminating pregnancies may be spoken of, understood, and felt very differently. For instance, in Southern Africa, the discourse surrounding terminating pregnancies engages with perceptions of the rejection of female social adulthood and only peripherally with the life of the fetus. In the Republic of Ireland, debates over the constitutional prohibition of abortion routinely index not only the competing rights of “the mother and the unborn” but also competing visions for the future of Catholicism in Irish social and political life. At the same time, the terms of the US abortion debate are increasingly influential globally, and may be transforming attitudes to abortion in varied contexts in unanticipated ways. Drawing on the concept of reproductive governance (Morgan & Roberts 2012), this panel considers how different actors around the globe - ranging from churches to legislative bodies, hospitals to traditional healers, activists to NGOs - discourage, facilitate, and understand specific practices surrounding abortion. Building on long-standing feminist engagements regarding abortion within anthropology (Bleek 1981; Ginsburg 1989; Hunt 2007; Whittaker 2004) and drawing into conversation perspectives from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central America, the panel considers ethnographically varied strategies for creatively engaging with and resisting forms of reproductive governance, as well as women’s efforts to determine their own reproductive and bodily experiences. We ask: What do polarized discourses about abortion obscure and produce? How do public anxieties about abortion bolster or disrupt other social and political concerns? How do women understand and experience abortion in different contexts, and how do these experiences relate to varying conceptions of personhood, morality, and society?