Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Sociology, Brandeis University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Sociomedical Sciences (Medical Sociology), Columbia University
The Paradox of Post-Abortion Care (PAC): Health Professionals and the Medicalization of a Quasi-Legal Practice in Senegal

Abortion laws in Senegal, a predominantly Muslim nation, are among the most restrictive in sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, Senegalese medical professionals in government health facilities regularly practice abortion. My research seeks to explore how health professionals manage this seemingly paradoxical practice. I propose that medical practitioners draw on post-abortion care (PAC) to medicalize or redefine abortion as a technical matter. PAC is a multi-pronged reproductive health initiative that seeks to reduce maternal mortality from complications of abortion. It includes medical treatment using manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) technology, counseling and contraception for women with complications of abortion. Through PAC, health professionals are medicalizing a domain normally dominated by legal and religious authorities. At the same time, this process reinforces social inequalities between patients and different kinds of medical providers. The role of international development agencies and donors in supporting PAC also introduces fresh distinctions between local and external forms of professional jurisdiction and expertise. This project uses ethnography to explore the circumstances under which medical practitioners employ PAC to transform abortion into an open secret in Senegal. I will compare and contrast the practices, technologies, work relationships and experiences regarding PAC in three regions of the country. I will study how health professionals implement, manage and represent PAC services and technology in health facilities, public health institutions and the general public. Data collection methods include in-depth interviews with health practitioners, government health officials and NGO and donor personnel; direct observation of PAC services at health facilities; and archival research at the Ministry of Health, the University of Dakar and the National Archives. By studying how Senegalese medical practitioners use PAC to redefine abortion as a technical matter, this project seeks to contribute to sociological literature on medicalization and professionalization as well as to studies of reproductive technology in practice.