Abortion In Context

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Book Chapter

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Routledge International Handbook Of Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health


Across the world, abortion is one of the commonest gynecological procedures and, properly carried out, one of the safest. However, some 25% of the world’s population lives in countries where legal statutes largely prohibit abortion, forcing women to seek clandestine abortions that often are unsafe. This chapter surveys legal, social, cultural, and political aspects of abortion, pointing to stark differences in women’s access to abortion in different locales and at various points in history. It also describes the wide range of methods that women have used to end an untenable pregnancy, including traditional methods such as botanical preparations and massage as well as biomedical technologies such as surgery and medication. The chapter also describes formal and informal strictures on abortion in various parts of the world, with an emphasis on the global South. Formal legal regulation of abortion may include limits on the gestational age at which abortion is permitted, the circumstances under which a woman may receive an abortion, and the degree of autonomy she is accorded in making the decision. Instances in which the state has compelled women to have abortions that they did not want are also discussed.

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