What post-abortion care indicators don't measure: Global abortion politics and obstetric practice in Senegal

Siri Suh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Since the early 1990s, post-abortion care (PAC) has been advocated as a harm reduction approach to maternal mortality and morbidity in countries with restrictive abortion laws. PAC indicators demonstrate that the intervention integrates safer uterine aspiration technology such as the Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA) syringe into obstetric practice and facilitates task-shifting from physicians to midwives. In other words, PAC not only saves women's lives, but more generally enhances the organization, quality, and cost-effectiveness of obstetric care. This article draws on my ethnography of Senegal's PAC program, conducted between 2010 and 2011, to illustrate how PAC indicators obscure the professional and technological complexities of treating abortion complications in contexts where abortion is illegal. Data collection methods include observation of PAC services and records at three hospitals; 66 in-depth interviews with health workers, government health officials, and NGO personnel; and a review of national and global PAC data. I show how anxieties about the capacity of the MVA syringe to induce abortion have engendered practices and policies that compromise the quality and availability of care throughout the health system. I explore the multivalent power of MVA statistics in strategically conveying commitments to national and global maternal mortality reduction agendas while eliding profound gaps in access to and quality of care for low-income and rural women. I argue that PAC strategies, technologies, and indicators must be situated within a global framework of reproductive governance, in which safe abortion has been omitted from maternal and reproductive health care associated with reproductive rights. Ethnographic attention to daily obstetric practices challenges globally circulating narratives about PAC as an apolitical intervention, revealing not only how anxieties about abortion ironically suppress the very rates of MVA utilization that purportedly convey PAC quality, but also how they simultaneously give rise to and obscure obstetric violence against women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112248
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online dateApr 3 2019
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I wish to thank the Senegalese health professionals who participated in this study and the three research assistants who helped me conduct fieldwork. I am also grateful to Jan Brunson and three anonymous reviewers for their generous feedback during the preparation of this article. This research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant number F31 HD059397 ), the Social Science Research Council , and the American Council of Learned Societies .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Abortion
  • Global reproductive governance
  • Indicators
  • Manual vacuum aspiration
  • Obstetric violence
  • Post-abortion care
  • Reproductive technologies
  • Senegal

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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