The Sociocultural and Political Aspects of Abortion: Global Perspectives

The Sociocultural and Political Aspects of Abortion: Global Perspectives

The Sociocultural and Political Aspects of Abortion: Global Perspectives

The Sociocultural and Political Aspects of Abortion: Global Perspectives


Seeking to define the ways various cultures view pregnancy, miscarriage, and abortion, this multidisciplinary collection of essays seeks to illustrate how these views influence policy decisions and practices regarding abortion around the world. Putting questions of pro-life and pro-choice aside, the contributors provide demographic coverage of the issues involved and contextualize some of the personal realities that underlie the approximately 50 million abortions that are believed to take place yearly worldwide. While the political and social climates in which women seek abortions vary from place to place, many of the chapters try to understand the moral implications that guide the decision to end a pregnancy from the perspective of the those who seek to do so.

Focusing primarily on developing nations, this important contribution to the literature on abortion provides readers with a careful overview of the different meanings attached to abortion depending on the cultural, social, and political climate. Areas covered include Tanzania, Bangladesh, West Africa, Ghana, Romania, Russia, Mexico, and Nigeria. General chapters on induced abortion, demographic research and abortion policy, and social pressures to abort are also included. This unique approach to the study of abortion will contribute to a greater understanding of a prominent social issue.


John C. Caldwell and Pat Caldwell

Induced abortion is a major phenomenon of the contemporary world. Each year it is practiced by one woman out of every fourteen of reproductive age (World Health Organization 1994, 1-14). With a level estimated at about 45 million per year (World Health Organization 1998), it occurs over one-third as frequently as births and just as frequently as deaths. It probably explains almost two-fifths of all births averted each year and hence is a dominant factor in the global fertility transition.

Yet abortion is far less often or completely studied than fertility, mortality, or contraception. This is partly because it is such a controversial phenomenon. In much of the world, governments and other institutions are hostile to it. In fact, many of the women who practice it do not express themselves as being generally in favor of the procedure.

There is another reason why little research is undertaken into induced abortion, but it is really a reason why it should be a focus of research: around twofifths of all abortions are clandestine and are carried out in societies where the circumstances of the pregnancy render the abortion illegal or where the provider is not legally qualified. These are the abortions classified by the World Health Organization (1994, 2) as [unsafe,] and although not all of them are in fact unsafe, most deaths do occur in this kind of abortion. Abortion accounts for about one-third of maternal mortality, and around 99 percent of this mortality occurs in illegal operations in the Third World. Pick and colleagues, describing Mexico City, write that in most countries where abortion is illegal, the law does not stop women from aborting yet ensures that they can do so only under dangerous conditions. The fact that induced abortion so often occurs with moral dis-

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