Abortion Globally: Interrogating the Life/Choice Binary

Panel organizers:
Kelsey London Robbins (Department of Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago)
Raffaella Taylor-Seymour (Departments of Anthropology & Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago)

Panel abstract:
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 on 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. 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; Ginsberg 1989; Hunt 2007; Whittaker 2004), the panel brings together scholars primarily working outside of the U.S. context to explore discourses and experiences of abortion beyond the pro-life/pro-choice binary. 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?

We invite papers addressing women’s reproductive experiences outside of the United States, specifically in relation to abortion. The conveners present perspectives from Ireland and Zimbabwe, and we invite panelists working in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and possibly within the United States who provide perspectives that complicate the pro-life/pro-choice binary.

Please send a provisional paper title and abstract of up to 250 words to Kelsey Robbins (kelseyrobbins@uchicago.edu) and Raffaella Taylor-Seymour (raffaella@uchicago.edu) by April 7th 2018. Decisions will be sent by April 10th.