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Post-abortion Care in Senegal: A Promising Terrain for Medical Sociology Research on Global Abortion Politics

Reproduction, Health, and Medicine

ISBN: 978-1-78756-172-4, eISBN: 978-1-78756-171-7

Publication date: 22 November 2019


To explore the politics of gender, health, medicine, and citizenship in high-income countries, medical sociologists have focused primarily on the practice of legal abortion. In middle- and low-income countries with restrictive abortion laws, however, medical sociologists must examine what happens when women have already experienced spontaneous or induced abortion. Post-abortion care (PAC), a global reproductive health intervention that treats complications of abortion and has been implemented in nearly 50 countries worldwide, offers important theoretical insights into transnational politics of abortion and reproduction in countries with restrictive abortion laws. In this chapter, I draw on my ethnography of Senegal’s PAC program to examine the professional, clinical, and technological politics and practices of obstetric care for abortions that have already occurred. I use the sociological concepts of professional boundary work and boundary objects to demonstrate how Senegalese health professionals have established the political and clinical legitimacy of PAC. I demonstrate the professional precariousness of practicing PAC for physicians, midwives, and nurses. I show how the dual capacity of PAC technologies to terminate pregnancy and treat abortion complications has limited their circulation within the health system, thereby reducing quality of care. Given the contradictory and complex global landscape of twenty-first-century abortion governance, in which pharmaceutical forms of abortion such as Misoprostol are increasingly available in developing countries, and as abortion restrictions are increasingly enforced across the developed world, PAC offers important theoretical opportunities to advance medical sociology research on abortion politics and practices in the global North and South.




I am grateful to the Senegalese health professionals and women patients who participated in this study. I wish to thank Dr. Susan Markens and two anonymous reviewers for their generous feedback during the preparation of this chapter. This research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant number F31 HD059397), the Social Science Research Council, and the American Council of Learned Societies.


Suh, S. (2019), "Post-abortion Care in Senegal: A Promising Terrain for Medical Sociology Research on Global Abortion Politics", Reproduction, Health, and Medicine (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 20), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 19-43.



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