Abortion, Sin, and the State in Thailand

By Andrea Whittaker | Go to book overview

4

Conceiving the nation

Representations of abortion in Thailand

Abortion remains outside the boundaries of normative social practice in Thailand but is the site of a continuing social struggle. This conflict is situated in broader economic, social and ideological concerns over women's domestic and public place in Thailand and competing constructions of gender, sexuality and motherhood (Luker 1975, 1984, Petchesky 1990, Ginsburg 1998). In this chapter, I employ a discursive analysis of public 'abortion rhetoric' to explore how abortion discourse links women to Thai visions of the nation. 1 The following chapter will examine representations of women and gender relations in more detail. As the ethnographic research presented in Chapters 6 and 7 reveals, the discourses described here influence public opinions towards abortion and have real consequences in its continued illegality, and the shame, ambivalence and secrecy surrounding abortion by women. They form part of the 'verbal commerce between public and private realms' governing abortion practice (Condit 1990:172).

As Ong and Peletz note, gender articulates with power, nationalism and capitalism in the postcolonial states of South-east Asia and 'different forms of knowledge and power focus on bodies and sexualities as the crucial sites of political, economic and cultural transformations' (Ong and Peletz 1995:1). This chapter considers how abortion provides insights into how 'ideologies of religion, ethnicity, development and nationhood shape the lived experiences and understandings of gender on the ground' (Ong and Peletz 1995:2). Abortion, as constructed in public discourse in Thailand, positions women at the centre of an ongoing debate about the nature of Thai society, culture and democracy. Abortion debates offer a commentary on what it means to be a Buddhist woman and by implication, what it means to be a good Thai citizen.

I am concerned with the linkages between ideas of 'nation', gender and the regulation of female bodies. A number of authors have described the gendering of nationalism and the ways in which men and women differ in their subject positions as citizens (Kandiyoti 1991, Jolly and Ram 2001). Women have been seen as 'mothers of the nation', as reproducers of the boundaries of ethnic or national groups, as those centrally responsible for the socialisation and enculturation of the next generation, as privileged signifiers of ethnic/national differences and as participants in national, economic or political struggles (Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1989). Women and men are thus integrated into modern ethnic, national or state

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Abortion, Sin, and the State in Thailand
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Series Editor's Foreword ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgements xv
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Abortion, Sin and the State 11
  • 3 - A History of the Abortion Debate 29
  • 4 - Conceiving the Nation 66
  • 5 - Corrupt Girls, Victims of Men, Desperate Women 91
  • 6 - 'A Small Sin' 109
  • 7 - 'the Truth of Our Day-By-Day Lives' 129
  • 8 - Global Debates, Local Dilemmas 148
  • Appendix I 158
  • Appendix II 161
  • Glossary of Thai Terms 163
  • Notes 165
  • Bibliography 176
  • Index 187
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