Adolescence, Pregnancy and Abortion: Constructing a Threat of Degeneration

Adolescence, Pregnancy and Abortion: Constructing a Threat of Degeneration

Adolescence, Pregnancy and Abortion: Constructing a Threat of Degeneration

Adolescence, Pregnancy and Abortion: Constructing a Threat of Degeneration


Winner of the Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor's Book Award 2012!

Winner of the 2011 Distinguished Publication Award of the Association for Women in Psychology!

Why, despite evidence to the contrary, does the narrative of the negative consequences of teenage pregnancy, abortion and childbearing persist? This book argues that the negativity surrounding early reproduction is underpinned by a particular understanding of adolescence. It traces the invention of "adolescence" and the imaginary wall that the notion constructs between young people and adults. Macleod examines the entrenched status of "adolescence" within a colonialist discourse that equates development of the individual with the development of civilisation, and the consequent threat of degeneration that "adolescence" implies.

Many important issues are explored, such as the invention of teenage pregnancy and abortion as a social problem; issues of race, culture and tradition in relation to teenage pregnancy; and health service provider practices, specifically in relation to managing risk. In the final chapter, an argument is made for a shift from the signifier "teenage pregnancy" to "unwanted pregnancy".

Using data gathered from studies worldwide, this book highlights central issues in the global debate concerning teenage pregnancy. It is ideal for academics, and students of health psychology, women's studies, nursing and sociology, as well as practitioners in the fields of youth and social work, medicine and counselling.


On 14 November 2006, Special Assignment, a weekly programme aired on the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s television Channel 3 (SABC3), was entitled Silent Cries. The programme is about teen-aged women who conceive and decide to terminate their pregnancy (which, under legislation introduced in 1996, is legal up to twelve weeks on request and thereafter under specific conditions). The following description of the programme appeared on the Special Assignment website (Special Assignment 2006):

Girls as young as 12 years are having multiple abortions – without
their parents’ consent. This week a Special Assignment investiga
tion reveals that many teenagers regard termination of pregnancy
as another form of contraception and disregard the consequent
dangers of HIV infection. We follow four girls as they enter clinics
and prepare for their procedures. They tell us why they have opted
for abortions and how they feel going through with them. While
two of the girls are still in high school, the other two are university
students. Out of the four girls, two are repeat cases. Since the
Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed in 1996, the
demand for abortions has increased. Last year about half a million
pregnancies were terminated in South Africa. According to the
Act, a pregnant woman who asks for an abortion cannot be turned
down. 72 000 teenagers missed school last year because they were
pregnant. From our investigation it would seem that many
underage girls are successfully exploiting two loopholes in the Act.
Firstly, they don’t need permission from their parents to get abor
tions, and secondly, the Act doesn’t stipulate how many abortions
a woman can have in her lifetime.

(Special Assignment 2006)

The actual programme starts with the following question:

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