Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Soc Sci Med. 1989;29(10):1191-8.

Private troubles and public issues: providing abortion amid competing definitions.

Author information

  • 1Department of Health Sciences, San Jose State University, CA 95192.


Sixteen years after the Supreme Court liberalized abortion policy, the United States continues to debate two competing and seemingly irreconcileable definitions of abortion. The experience of those who provide abortion has received relatively little research attention despite this unique set of historical circumstances. This paper presents findings from an exploratory study of 130 abortion workers (physicians, nurses and counselors). The data suggest that, despite formal beliefs about abortion rights, the situated experience of providing legal abortion evokes a range of abortion definitions. Seven central definition themes were cited repeatedly by the respondents: abortion as a woman's right, a destructive act, part of the practitioner's work, a technical procedure, a positive act, murder and an irresponsible act. Respondents perceived each definition to fit within one of three fixed and familiar perspectives: medical, pro-choice or pro-life. Each perspective was understood to have its own exclusive meanings, vocabulary and imagery which automatically remanded the situated definitions to a broader social context. Each definition of abortion was seen to define the event itself as well as to input specific meaning and differential value to what is aborted, the woman terminating her pregnancy, the nature of abortion work and the role of the practitioner. These definition components were perceived to be specific, codified and mutually exclusive within the different definition themes. They also were found to be linked to expected and specified feelings. The co-existence of feelings or definitions that were perceived as consistent was hardly noted by respondents.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Loading ...
    Support Center