Aborting Culture

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Khiara Bridges is the Center for Reproductive Rights/Columbia Law School fellow at Columbia Law School who has just completed her PhD in Columbia’s Anthropology Department studying the intersection of race, poverty, and gender through the experience of women in an obstetrics clinic in a New York City public hospital.   She blogged earlier on the racial implications of surrogacy and now offers the following reaction to a recent article in the New York Times on Dominican women’s “self-help” abortions, cross-posted from Columbia’s Gender & Sexuality Law Blog:

For Privacy’s Sake: Taking Risks to End Pregnancy, an article that was published last weekend in the New York Times, reports on the use of misoprostol by Dominican women within New York City to self-induce abortions. Misoprostol is a prescription drug that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to reduce gastric ulcers; however, the article reports that many Dominican women have purchased the drug, sans prescription, from local pharmacies and have used it to terminate unwanted pregnancies in their homes, without oversight from medical institutions and personnel. The article also reports on a study documenting Dominican women’s use of other”extra-medical”methods to abort pregnancies:such as”mixing malted beverages with aspirin, salt or nutmeg; throwing themselves down stairs or having people punch them in the stomach; and drinking teas of avocado leaf, pine wood, oak bark and mamon fruit peel. Interviews with several community leaders and individual women in Washington Heights echoed the findings, and revealed even more unconventional methods like ‘juice de jeans,’ a noxious brew made by boiling denim hems.”

Kirsten Luce for The New York TimesInterestingly, the article argues that Dominican”culture”explains why many Dominican women do not look to medical institutions when seeking to terminate their pregnancies. The author argues that women from”fervently anti-abortion cultures”may use such methods to induce abortions”despite the widespread availability of safe, legal and inexpensive abortions in clinics and hospitals.”

In this way, the article exemplifies the dangers of”culture”as an explanatory concept.

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