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The Human Drama of Abortion

A Global Search for Consensus

Aníbal Faúndes and José S. Barzelatto

Publication Year: 2006

Deeply touched by the tragedies of botched abortions that they witnessed as medical students and young physicians in Chile in the 1940s and later around the world, the authors have attempted in their professional lives and now in this book to establish a framework for dialogue to replace the polarization that exists today. Doctors Faúndes and Barzelatto use their decades of international work to document the personal experiences of different classes of women in different countries and those countries' policies and practices. No other book provides such a comprehensive and reasoned examination of the entire topic of abortion, from the medical to the religious and ethical and from the psychological to the legal, in plain language understandable by non-specialists. The central thesis is that there are too many induced abortions in the world today, that most are preventable and should be prevented--a middle ground that both pro-life and pro-choice advocates can accept. The first part of the book reviews why women have abortions, as well as the magnitude and consequences. The second part examines values. The third part discusses effective interventions. The final part states conclusions about what can be done to reach a necessary social consensus. The Portuguese edition of this book was issued at the very end of 2004. The Spanish edition, launched in mid-2005, is already in a second printing. The authors are making presentations at special events sponsored by universities, professional associations, and feminist networks in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-xi

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pp. xiii-xiv

We begin by acknowledging the unexpected and profound influence of our joint residency at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study and Conference Center, where we arrived with only an agreed-upon book outline and a very rough draft of some sections. The atmosphere at the center and the people we met there helped us in a number of ways. ...

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First Preface

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pp. xv-xvi

As I was working on this book, I realized how much of my life has been dedicated to dealing with the human drama of abortion. Neither biography nor memoir, this book clearly has its origin in the emotional impact of the suffering of women with abortion complications that I experienced as a young intern at a public hospital ...

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Second Preface

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pp. xvii-xviii

As a student and then as a young physician at a university hospital in Chile from the late 1940s to the 1960s, I witnessed the growing epidemic and national tragedy of women who suffered the complications of unsafe abortions, and I was emotionally marked by the experience forever. ...

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pp. xix-xxii

Many excellent works on abortion have been published in recent years. Why go to the trouble and effort of writing another book on the subject? We felt an urgent need to do so because we believe that the thousands of pages published in books, in scientific journals, and in the lay press on the subject of abortion ...

Part I. The Human Drama of Abortion

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pp. 1

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1. Listening to Women

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pp. 3-11

Only women know exactly why they end up making the difficult decision to have an abortion. Consequently, there is no better way to help us understand the issue than to listen to their stories. The story of each woman, rich or poor, younger or older, illiterate or highly educated—related here as told to us ...

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2. The Meaning of Words

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pp. 12-26

I (JB) was visiting a Muslim country, representing the World Health Organization (WHO). Soon after my arrival, I received an unexpected invitation to meet with a high official of the Ministry of Health. I felt both obliged to accept and excited about the opportunity to acquire firsthand knowledge ...

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3. The Magnitude of Induced Abortion

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pp. 27-32

It is practically impossible to know how many induced abortions occur in the world every year because reliable data are available for only a relatively small number of countries. One of the most complete analyses of the global incidence of abortion, a study by Stanley. K. Henshaw, Susheela Singh, and Taylor Haas (1999), ...

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4. Consequences of Unsafe Abortion

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pp. 33-44

Roberta was a very pretty girl, the younger of two daughters of a hard-working man who owned a modest car repair shop in a working-class neighborhood of a large city. Although her mother, a housewife, was almost completely illiterate, both of Roberta’s parents wanted a better life for ...

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5. Why Women Get Pregnant When They Do Not Want To

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pp. 45-53

The most common reason given for why women have unintended and unwanted pregnancies is that they lack information about and/or access to contraceptive methods (Henshaw, Singh, and Haas, 1999). This is undoubtedly true both for unmarried women and for married women who already have the children they want. ...

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6. When Is a Pregnancy So Unwanted That It Ends in Abortion?

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pp. 54-60

No woman takes pleasure in having an abortion. For some women abortion may cause little stress, but for the majority of women, it is a very disturbing experience that they would much prefer to avoid (Barros, Santa Cruz, and Sanches, 1997). “Abortion is a horrendous ordeal”; ...

Part II. Values

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pp. 61

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7. Conflicting Values Encountered by Health Professionals

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pp. 63-71

For health care providers, saving lives is the primary goal, and for those who care for a pregnant woman, this goal includes both the life of the potential mother and that of her offspring. It is with this perspective in mind that we consider the reasons and circumstances under which health care providers ...

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8. Religious Values

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pp. 72-96

Most people in the world affiliate themselves with one religion or another, and their religious affiliation influences their thinking and actions. In fact, all people are influenced by the predominant religious values of the society in which they live, because these values are part of their culture. ...

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9. Ethical Values

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pp. 97-109

This is an example of a personal moral problem or ethical dilemma, where the decision requires the person to weigh conflicting values in the light of specific circumstances and make a judgment about how to proceed. Morals and ethics are usually used as synonyms, and both refer to what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. ...

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10. Values as Reflected in the Law

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pp. 110-120

Laws are the instruments used by governments to provide the basis for deciding when an act is permitted or when it should be penalized. However, laws do not always fulfill their intended purpose: the regulation of social and personal behavior. Their effectiveness depends on how well they respond ...

Part III. Improving the Situation

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pp. 121

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11. How to Decrease the Number of Abortions

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pp. 123-135

Despite global evidence to the contrary, many political and religious leaders and rank-and-file promoters of the pro-life movement continue to believe that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is through legal and moral prohibition. ...

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12. How to Reduce the Human, Social, and Economic Costs of Abortion

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pp. 136-149

It is quite obvious that the human, social, and economic costs of induced abortion would be reduced if if there were fewer abortions in the world. Even if all the proposed measures were universally implemented, however, a significant number of induced abortions would undoubtedly take place in the foreseeable future. ...

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13. The Paradox: Rejecting Abortion and Opposing the Prevention of Unwanted Pregnancies

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pp. 150-158

As we have seen throughout this book, the most efficient way to prevent abortion is to avoid unwanted pregnancies. We might expect, therefore, that those who oppose abortion would be in favor of measures that are aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancy: the large-scale dissemination of complete unbiased information ...

Part IV. Seeking a Consensus

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pp. 159

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14. How to Reach a Consensus on Abortion

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pp. 161-172

This statement was among the most important of the entire meeting. It was a very clear invitation to accept diversity of values and to recognize that progress in dialogue cannot be achieved if some of the actors ignore the arguments of others, instead of making an integral analysis of the problem. ...


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pp. 173-194


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pp. 195-198

About the Authors

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pp. 199-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780826592132
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826515254
Print-ISBN-10: 0826515258

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Abortion -- Cross-cultural studies.
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted.
  • Women's rights.
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted -- Cross-cultural studies.
  • Birth control clinics.
  • Medical policy.
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