Authoritative Knowledge and Single Women's Unintended Pregnancies, Abortions, Adoptions, and Single Motherhood: Social Stigma and Structural Violence

Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, USA.
Medical Anthropology Quarterly (Impact Factor: 1.3). 10/2003; 17(3):322-47. DOI: 10.1525/maq.2003.17.3.322
Source: PubMed


This article explores the sources of authoritative knowledge that shaped single, white, middle-class women's unintentional pregnancies and child-bearing decisions throughout five reproductive eras. Women who terminated a pregnancy were most influenced by their own personal needs and circumstances. birth mothers' decisions were based on external sources of knowledge, such as their mothers, social workers, and social pressures. In contrast, single mothers based their decision on instincts and their religious or moral beliefs. Reproductive policies further constrained and significantly shaped women's experiences. The social stigma associated with these forms of stratified maternity suggests that categorizing pregnant women by their marital status, or births as out-of-wedlock, reproduces the structural violence implicit to normative models of female sexuality and maternity. This mixed-method study included focus groups to determine the kinds of knowledge women considered authoritative, a mailed survey to quantify these identified sources, and one-on-one interviews to explore outcomes in depth.

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    • "None of these insights account for why birth mothers make the unique choice that they do. Anthropological research on stratified motherhood has suggested that birth mothers' pregnancy decisions are more likely to be influenced by external variables and the opinions of others, compared with women who terminate (who are more likely to be motivated by personal needs) and women who parent (whose decisions are determined by their instincts and moral beliefs) (Ellison, 2003). These findings suggest that birth mothers' pregnancy options are considered through a different decisionmaking lens. "
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    ABSTRACT: As the least-chosen option when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, adoption remains largely unexamined as a reproductive choice. Although the anti-abortion movement promotes adoption as its preferred alternative to abortion, little is known of birth mothers' pregnancy decision making and whether adoption was chosen in lieu of abortion. I conducted in-depth interviews with 40 women who had placed infants for adoption from 1962 to 2009. Participants were asked about all aspects of their adoption experiences, including their pregnancy decision making and thoughts on abortion. Interview transcripts were analyzed using grounded theory to find unifying themes speaking to reproductive choice. Participants' stories revealed widely varying ideas about abortion. Many were opposed to abortion, but a greater number supported abortion as a reproductive choice, although one they did not choose for themselves. Birth mothers were most often choosing between adoption and parenting, not adoption and abortion. Most participants would have preferred to parent, but did not because of external variables. Mixed experiences with adoption also influenced participants' long-term ideas about reproductive choice. Findings suggest that the anti-abortion framing of adoption as a preferable alternative to abortion is inconsistent with birth mothers' pregnancy decision-making experiences and their feelings about adoption. Reducing social barriers to both abortion and parenting will ensure that adoption is situated as a true reproductive choice. Copyright © 2015 Jacobs Institute of Women's Health. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2015 · Women s Health Issues
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    • "Ellison describes how structural violence influences the decision making processes of pregnant single women in the USA regarding abortion, adoption and single motherhood. The author describes how everyday forms of violence are explicated in shame and stigma and concludes that to make decisions about their pregnancies these women draw on an authoritative knowledge that is informed by both internal sources and their own experience of symbolic violence (Ellison, 2003). "
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    ABSTRACT: This article discusses the manner in which social and historical factors impact upon indigenous conceptions of health and health-seeking behaviour, reinforcing their authoritative knowledge about birth and wellbeing. It explores how Mexican indigenous Huichol migrant labourers experience structural, everyday and symbolic violence while away working, and in their home communities. The study was based on semi-structured interviews and observations with 33 Huichol migrant labourers and 12 key informants from the community (traditional healthcare providers), health sector (medical doctors based in the highlands) and tobacco industry (farmers, tobacco union leader and pesticide sellers) during 2010-11. Findings show how the continuum of violence is experienced by these migrants as shame, timidity and humiliation, expressions of symbolic violence that have helped define their tradition of birthing alone and their feeling of entitlement to the conditional welfare payments which sustain their marginalised subsistence lifestyle. This paper proposes that there is a cyclical relationship between structural violence and authoritative knowledge as the former reinforces their adherence to a set of cultural beliefs and practices which are the basis of racial discrimination against them.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2013 · Social Science [?] Medicine
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    • "Experiences of stigma, fear of experiencing stigma, or internalized stigma around her abortion may have prompted women to give more socially desirable responses to make her appear or feel selfless, to justify her abortion decision. Other studies have reported abortion-seeking women’s fear of being judged as having made a selfish decision [22]. At the same time, some of the women seeking abortion in this study were aiming to secure themselves a better life and future- chances for a better job and a good education. "
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    ABSTRACT: The current political climate with regards to abortion in the US, along with the economic recession may be affecting women's reasons for seeking abortion, warranting a new investigation into the reasons why women seek abortion. Data for this study were drawn from baseline quantitative and qualitative data from the Turnaway Study, an ongoing, five-year, longitudinal study evaluating the health and socioeconomic consequences of receiving or being denied an abortion in the US. While the study has followed women for over two full years, it relies on the baseline data which were collected from 2008 through the end of 2010. The sample included 954 women from 30 abortion facilities across the US who responded to two open ended questions regarding the reasons why they wanted to terminate their pregnancy approximately one week after seeking an abortion. Women's reasons for seeking an abortion fell into 11 broad themes. The predominant themes identified as reasons for seeking abortion included financial reasons (40%), timing (36%), partner related reasons (31%), and the need to focus on other children (29%). Most women reported multiple reasons for seeking an abortion crossing over several themes (64%). Using mixed effects multivariate logistic regression analyses, we identified the social and demographic predictors of the predominant themes women gave for seeking an abortion. Study findings demonstrate that the reasons women seek abortion are complex and interrelated, similar to those found in previous studies. While some women stated only one factor that contributed to their desire to terminate their pregnancies, others pointed to a myriad of factors that, cumulatively, resulted in their seeking abortion. As indicated by the differences we observed among women's reasons by individual characteristics, women seek abortion for reasons related to their circumstances, including their socioeconomic status, age, health, parity and marital status. It is important that policy makers consider women's motivations for choosing abortion, as decisions to support or oppose such legislation could have profound effects on the health, socioeconomic outcomes and life trajectories of women facing unwanted pregnancies.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2013 · BMC Women's Health
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