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Existential challenge in a secularized culture: abortion as a case
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Theology, The Centre for the Study of Religion and Society.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Caring Sciences.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Women's and Children's Health.
2009 (English)Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Outside the frames of both traditional religion and alternative therapies people in a secularized culture are still hit by life and death. Induced abortion can be one of these situations. How do Swedish women cope with abortion as a life event? This paper presents material from an on-going crossdisciplinary multicentre abortion study (here called MAS Multicentre Abortion Study), involving both medical and humanistic departments at Uppsala University, and 13 hospitals in Sweden. The aim of MAS is to investigate men’s and women’s clinical as well as personal experiences in relation to abortion. MAS combines quantitative and qualitative methods, and theoretical perspectives from the psychology of religion as well as from the caring sciences and medicine. The purpose of the study is not to question the Swedish abortion legislation.

This paper is based on one of the studies included in MAS. This study consists of qualitative interviews with twenty women who previously had had abortions. The aim was to explore experiences and acts that are significant for aborting women. The women were primarily recruited when visiting a student health centre in Uppsala. The study was designed on basis of the idea that it might be possible to detect movements relevant for religious studies by focusing on situations where people are more or less forced into the existential domain. These situations can bring forth examples of personal forms of meaning-making, significant for a time distinguished by religious privatization. In other words, the research presented here does not look at specificly religious activities, but a situation that existentially challenges the individual, in order to see how she handles this, where she seeks support, how she interprets the situation and expresses her sense of meaning.

In Sweden, a pregnant woman is free to decide for abortion until the 19th week of gestation. However, over 90% of the abortions in Sweden are performed before gestation week 12. Induced abortions are widely accepted in the country and about every fourth pregnancy in Sweden is ended through abortion. Current Swedish abortion research shows that the abortion decision often comprises strong and conflicting emotions. For many women it means going through a period where feelings of pride, desperation, relief and grief succeed each other. At the same time abortion is not included among those life events that people share through religious and social ritual. The existential consequences of this situation for women’s wellbeing have not yet been systematically studied. The research presented here is a first attempt to fill this gap.

Our preliminary findings suggest that abortion is experienced in a wide variety of ways. All women in the interview group, except one, are satisfied with the liberal Swedish abortion legislation, and several also express gratitude, when they compare the Swedish situation with more conservative countries. Many women also find the process easy to go through, and are most of all relieved when the unwanted pregnancy is ended. Others, however, find that the abortion initiates an existential journey. They describe processes that include thoughts and feelings around life and death, meaning, responsibility and guilt – combined with relief and gratitude. The stories from these women also underline the lack of possibilities for Swedish women to deal with the existential aspects of the abortion situation in a balanced way, let alone mark or end the abortion process through some form of symbolic act or ritualization. At a more general level, the results also highlight the growing need for existential awareness and education within the clinical milieu.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
abortion, life event, existential needs, meaning-making, secularization
National Category
Religious Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-109590OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-109590DiVA: diva2:273105
International Association for the Psychology of Religion, Congress 2009, 23-27 August, Vienna - Austria 
Available from: 2009-10-20 Created: 2009-10-20 Last updated: 2011-09-29Bibliographically approved

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Liljas Stålhandske, MariaTydén, Tanja
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The Centre for the Study of Religion and SocietyCaring SciencesDepartment of Women's and Children's Health
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