Contesting choice: Abortion access and decision-making within social relationships and politicalized spaces in North Carolina
Awarded 2018
Emerging Scholars in Family Planning
Whitney Arey, MA
Brown University

Abortion has long been a contentious political issue in the US. While larger societal and political factors increasingly impede abortion access, the political rhetoric on abortion primarily focuses on the “right to choose” and therefore on individual women, as the primary, autonomous decision-makers for abortion. Rather than conceptualizing choice as an individual process, my project conceptualizes abortion decision-making as embedded in interpersonal interactions, such as kinship relations. Through 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork at two independent abortion clinics in North Carolina, my research asks how interpersonal relationships affect abortion decision-making, access, and experiences of abortion within the politically contested clinic space. While abortion decisions are made before arriving at the clinic, clinic protesting, legal restrictions, economic circumstances, and interpersonal interactions with conjugal partners, accompanying family members and friends, protesters, clinic volunteers, and clinic staff, mean that abortion decisions require continual justification and renegotiation throughout the process of obtaining an abortion By emphasizing the complex relationships between individual experience, health care, and politics, I ask how political, legal, and social restrictions on abortion access are continually challenged through interpersonal relationships.