|By Dr. Maria Liljas Stålhandske, Uppsala Religion and Society Research Centre, Sweden
Co-authors: Tanja Tydén & Maria Ekstrand, Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Uppsala University, Sweden
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Psychological distress after abortion is uncommon, but current Swedish abortion research shows that the abortion decision may comprise strong and contradictory emotions, sometimes related to questions of existential significance. However, abortion-related existential experiences have not yet been systematically studied. The aim of this study was to investigate existential experiences in relation to induced abortion. The study was performed through semi-structured interviews with questions about decision-making, abortion process, and existential feelings, thoughts and acts. Eighteen women, aged 21-38, with experience of abortions participated. The interviews were analyzed with latent content analysis.
Existential questions concerning life and death, self-understanding, meaning and morality were found in the material; only one of the interviews was devoid of existential issues. However, this implied neither that the decision was difficult for the women to make, nor that the women were unsatisfied with their abortions. Four different existential practices were found in the material, showing how the women tried to deal with the existential questions through (1) cognitive practices (protecting themselves from difficult emotions), (2) meaning-making practices (finding ways to understand and justify the event), (3) narrative practices (sharing their experiences), and (4) symbolic-ritual practices (dealing with the experience in bodily or expressive ways).
The study sheds light on secularized forms of meaning-making and contributes with knowledge about women’s existential experiences and needs in relation to induced abortion. The study shows that existential aspects of abortion can affect the wellbeing of aborting women. Existential aspects of abortion are seldom acknowledged within the clinical context. The study offers new perspectives to understand this dimension.
1Liljas Stålhandske, Maria 2009. Necessary and impossible: On spiritual questions in relation to early induced abortion. In Tore Ahlbäck (red), Postmodern spirituality. The Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History, Åbo.