Exceptional Choices? A Discursive Examination of Abortion Discourses in New Zealand
While abortion discourses are often understood in terms of the opposing poles of pro-choice and pro-life, these labels belie the complexity of substantive understandings of abortion. This thesis examines dominant discourses of abortion in New Zealand through analysing legal, media and televisual discourses and qualitative interviews with fifteen women. Participants’ understandings of abortion were complex, at times contradictory and resisted easy delineation into cohesive positions. Nonetheless, the majority of participants understood abortion to be only legitimate in exceptional circumstances such as in cases where maternal health is at risk or the pregnancy is the result of rape. An analysis of such exceptionalism suggests that the exception proves the rule. Thus deeming some abortions legitimate reinscribes the fundamental point that abortion is illegitimate. Compounding the negative view of abortion germane in the exceptionalist framework, abortion was also normatively understood to be traumatic by several participants. Other participants resisted the idea that abortion is aberrant and immoral and instead saw abortion as an ordinary yet important healthcare decision. Critically examining dominant discourses of abortion as negative, harmful and exceptional allows for refocusing abortion as an ordinary yet vital part of women’s experiences of reproduction. I argue that abortion should be understood as an ordinary and legitimate part of women’s lives and not as an exceptional choice.
Advisor: Stringer, Rebecca
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Gender Studies
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: abortion; exceptionalism; neo-liberalism; New Zealand; pro-choice; pro-choice pathologisation
Research Type: Thesis