Unsafe abortion: regulation of the social body even beyond time and space

Cult Health Sex. 2013;15(3):358-71. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2012.758313. Epub 2013 Jan 16.


This paper offers an analysis of women's performance of unsafe abortion in rural Ghana despite significant cultural sanctions that forbid the practice. Findings demonstrate how women in the study balance sanctions inherent in traditional belief structures against their own immediate physical and social best interests. In rural Ghana, a woman's body is not always her own to do with as she would wish. It is also a social body, which is embedded in multiple sets of relationships and subject to social regulation. Traditional authority over a woman's body belongs not only to the community elders in the immediate physical environment of the village but also extends beyond time and space to immaterial ancestral persons who watch over the actions and behaviours of those on earth. Authority resides also with Mawu, the Ewe God, who is offended by the practice of abortion. Data from this study reveal that the performance of unsafe abortion in this Ewe community is a desperate act in which the women must not only risk their physical lives, but must also step outside the boundaries of ideological cultural conformity to traditional values and carry the risk of their actions even into life after death.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / adverse effects
  • Abortion, Induced / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Cremation
  • Culture
  • Female
  • Ghana
  • Humans
  • Religion
  • Social Values
  • Young Adult