The experience of abortion for Cook Islands women: exploring the socio-cultural dimensions of abortion safety

Kate Burry
Kristen Beek
Lisa Vallely
Bridget Haire

Abortion is significantly restricted by law in most Pacific Island countries, impacting the rights, health and autonomy of people who experience pregnancy. We undertook qualitative research between February and August 2022 on Rarotonga, Cook Islands, where abortion is illegal under most circumstances. We conducted interviews with women who had accessed or tried to access abortion services; people who had supported women to access abortion services; health workers; and advocates to understand their experiences regarding abortion. We conducted focus groups to explore broader social perceptions and experiences of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including abortion. Participants described their abortion decisions and methods, and their negotiation of the personal context of their sexual behaviours, pregnancies, and abortions relative to their socio-cultural context and values. As defined by the World Health Organization, safe abortion relates to the methods and equipment used and the skills of the abortion provider. We argue for an expansion of this definition to consider inclusion of reference to individuals’ ‘abortion safety nets’ as the sum of their access to financial, political, health care and socio-cultural resources. These safety nets are shaped by discourses related to abortion and socio-cultural support and values, impacting physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual health.

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Research Type(s)
Journal Article
February 15, 2024
Published in

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