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Reprod Health Matters. 2005 Nov;13(26):130-8.

Abortion in the moral world of the Cameroon grassfields.

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University Women's Hospital, Basel, Switzerland.


Despite high levels of unsafe abortion in Cameroon, remarkably limited attention has been paid to the moral dilemma for women who seek abortions. In-depth interviews were conducted with 65 Cameroonian Grasslands women within a hospital-based study, complemented by participant observation, use of hospital records and interviews with key informants. The paper demonstrates how a hidden moral code on abortion helps women to exercise individual agency despite prevailing moral values. At the same time, women's desire to keep abortion secret can impede adequate medical treatment, which in turn can increase the risk of complications and mortality. Abortion was more often condemned by the women because of the risk to their lives and of infertility rather than for religious reasons or because it is illegal. However, the economic and social realities of everyday life often overrode their fear of complications when they needed to end a pregnancy. The paper concludes that women have already broken through Cameroon's stringent restrictions on abortion through their practice. There is a large gap between what is permitted under the current law, which is colonial in origin, and women's need for legal abortion on broad socio-economic grounds. This calls for reflection on liberalisation of the present law.

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