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Everyday Practices in Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health, Immigrant or

Otherwise, in Catalonia

Mara E. Martínez Morant
Doctor in Cultural and Social Anthropology
Bau, Escola Superior de Disseny, Universitat de Vic
Barcelona, Spain
encarnac@cgtrabajosocial.es
mara.martinez@baued.es

Introduction
In this research, I explore the way women and their partners use, or fail to use
contraceptive methods. I seek an approach that will enable me to know the reasons
behind the rejection of contraceptives in coital sexual relations when pregnancy is not
wanted. It seems obvious that, unless contraceptives are used, the potential for
pregnancy in healthy women of reproductive age is extremely high. And women do get
pregnant.
My initial intention is to discover the technical aspects of contraceptive failures, such as
a torn condom, interaction with drugs that annul the pill's effectiveness, slipping of the
intrauterine device, improper placement of the vaginal ring, and error of calculation in
the Ogino-Knaus method. Contraceptive methods have a 95% to 99% probability of
preventing pregnancy. Nonetheless, the number of pregnancies that women say were
not planned is considerable. More than one third of such pregnancies are due to a
failure in the contraceptive method used, in a technical sense. However, according to
the conditions in which women contend that the other two thirds of unplanned
pregnancies occur, the inference is that it was “carelessness” during the conception,
rather than a technical failure of a contraceptive.
Unveiling what constitutes ‘carelessness’ became the leading aspect of my research. In
this presentation, based on my ethnography, I show how Catalonian, Spanish and
immigrant women explain the omission of contraceptive methods and the physical and
mental outcomes this causes. Basically, I am interested in showing that the failure to
use contraceptives can hide issues related to the couple, family, religion and custom,
which are the main reasons given by the interviewees.
Access to sexual and reproductive health, where abortion is a radical contraceptive that
puts an end to an unwanted pregnancy, is a highly sensitive topic that must be
approached with caution. Therefore, selecting the female interviewees involves
explaining the project to the women who come to a social resource for abortion-related
issues and seeking their cooperation. In the case of this research, the resource was an
Association 1 that runs an aid program to finance the abortion for women who live in
Catalonia. I had the opportunity to provide my services there for several years and
attended to several thousands of women who came to the center to apply for financial
assistance.

1

For the purpose of maintaining anonymity, I will always refer to the social resource where I worked
attending to women who came to request social services and financial assistance to have an abortion as
the ‘Association’.

1

I transcribe what they say verbatim. I made an ethnographical study of 112 women. 2 I write “legally induced abortion” because it fits the provisions of Spanish Organic Law 9/1985. intonation and manners of speech to preserve the emphasis and meaning they give to their words. because out of all the women in Spain who have abortions. when I record the interviewees' testimonies. The testimonies also shape the territory where abortions are done on women whose names and places of origin are omitted to avoid putting the chiaroscuro and ambiguity surrounding abortion at risk. only to those who have financial problems and need help to pay for a legally induced abortion. Therefore. With regard to the general characteristics that enable a benchmark social profile to be identified. they were referred to legally authorized private clinics. a specific population was selected for the ethnographical research. that amends Article 417 bis of the Spanish Criminal Code (referred to hereinafter as Organic Law 9/1985) which specifies three cases in which a woman may have an abortion: 1) fetal malformation up to 22 weeks of gestation. 3) if the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman is at risk. 3 The effort to follow the interviewees’ expressions and manner of speech is lost in the translation into English. The level of independence of nearly all of these women was subject to low-qualified jobs or they were unemployed. but a new abortion law was passed in Spain on 24 February 2010. in the case of Catalonia. Out of the total number. the data presented in this paper correspond to a specific segment of the population and may give a perspective that does not reflect the real life situation shared by all of the women who have an abortion. Despite the effort to prevent bias. whose tales describe their sexual and reproductive health practices. of 5 July. where they could have an abortion.I invited potential interviewees to participate in the research in the course of the interviews I conducted as part of my job. It is also worth mentioning that my research was conducted when the above-mentioned Law was still in force. during which they cohabitated. immigrants. Women on whom the ethnographical research was conducted The process followed consisted of successive periods of 1 to 2 months. where. of these. 3 . 2 . I recommenced the phase of inviting new potential interviews to participate. while transcribing the interviews. including their lisps. 70% of the women interviewed were foreigners. Also. During these periods I invited the potential interviewees to take part in this research and. the study group was women. the Association only attends to those who live in Catalonia and. many of whom had relationships that lasted less than two years. after filing a report with the police and before 12 weeks of gestation. whereas the remaining 30% were Spanish and Catalan. Consequently. and either Catalan or Spaniards who were living in precarious situations and came to the Association. in which case there is no time limit. the 112 women’s age range was 15 to 38. which is to attend to the needs of vulnerable women from different origins who come to the Association to ask for social and financial assistance to pay for a legally induced abortion 2 . 2) on account of rape. In all. the largest group was of single women. I repeated the process from March 2007 to the end of February 2008. if necessary.

According to the text of the article.48 children per woman. although the number of repeated miscarriages can be quite striking 5 . and for that they need financial support from friends. In contrast. they mostly use the Ogino-Knaus rule. Moroccan women had the most children. from Romania (Association. in 2007 the fertility rate (which measures the number of children per woman of childbearing age) reached its highest level since 1984. and Latin Americans and African women in particular. Secondly. and lastly. 3 . tend to have more children (compared to the currently recorded number of children born to Spanish and Catalan women) 4 . The changes experienced by immigrant women who are subject to accelerated acculturation and neoculturation in parallel to forced integration in the country of destination causes a metamorphosis imbued with strong emotions. Latin American women do not use contraception much. the average number of children that women in Catalonia have is higher than even the Spanish national average. even though Spanish women have more children. friendships. The study group was made up of women from different social backgrounds and cultures. a secondary education. for instance.Foreign and immigrant interviewees Amongst the flow of immigrants recorded in Catalonia in the last few years. the increase in the fertility rate is largely due to the foreign population. extended family. which is a big difference to the low average recorded in 1995 (1. family or institutions. Due to a number of different factors. etc. as is the use of methods of contraception. The women came from several different countries. which they refer to as the ‘T’ or ‘Copper-T’. Living far away from their sons and daughters. followed by women from the Kingdom of Morocco. they use the intrauterine device (IUD).14). which is not very reliable. With regard to the Moroccan women. abortion is a virtually unknown practice. the job itself is very unstable. the majority have no network of contacts in Spanish society (mother.6% of the total number of births given by foreign women. I found out that the miscarriages were frequently the result of acts of violence perpetrated by the pregnant woman’s partner against her.4% in 2007. In this respect. Many of them are also in more a more precarious situation than the Spanish and Catalan women because they have no job or. at 1. from their families and from their 4 In the ‘Demographics’ section of the newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya. Abortion is not particularly common among Latin American women. 5 This level of reoccurrence made me curious as to the conditions and causes of these supposedly spontaneous miscarriages. according to the newspaper. with the largest group being made up of Latin American women (the Republic of Bolivia. many young women are arriving who are or will soon be of reproductive age. some of them find themselves having to face unwanted pregnancies and abortions. if they have one. Moreover. of July 4. 2008. This circumstance indicates that their financial situation is the main reason for seeking an abortion. to a lesser extent. they differ in the extent of their awareness of contraceptive methods and the way they perceive abortion. partner. and when they do. This is because the number of children born of immigrant women increased by 16. 2007:16). from their partners.48. accounting for 21. Likewise. and the Republic of Peru). a figure equivalent to 18. abortion is an accessible resource to Romanian women and it is relatively normal for them to have had more than one abortion. The article reported that due to 10 consecutive years of growth.8% of the total number of births registered in Catalonia that year.) who can provide them with help and protection if they need it. the Republic of Ecuador. This now means that. Immigrant women in general. there was a news item stating that Catalonia had regained the fertility rate of 1984 with 1. A large number of the immigrant women are in single-parent families and their children are looked after by their maternal relatives (only occasionally by the fathers or their paternal relatives) in the countries of origin. These women have a primary education and. Romanian women are the ones who use the contraceptive pill and condoms the most.

neither the women nor their partners use contraceptives because their family and emotional context assumes that couples live together out of love and the natural outcome of that love is to have children. I observed that most unwanted pregnancies and abortions take place between a few months and the first 2 or 3 years of the women’s residence in Catalonia. even reunified husbands 6 . in my country…”. while blaming only the woman for the situation. they often live with their partners after a brief relationship and they do not use contraceptives. They comment that the pace of life in Catalonia is different.community of reference. Colloquially. which is why they want to learn more about them. the men will abandon the woman when they find out she is pregnant. I have no one …all of my family are over there. completely alone. for instance. very alone. unwanted pregnancy and abortion: “… I got pregnant and my husband is in my country aaand he doesn't know about it… he's there with my two kids because I came here to work and send them every month and here I have no one no one at all… all my family is in my country I have no friends… no one! and I felt very lonely so lonely thaaaaat I felt really bad… and I met him when I felt so lonely I met this man he’s Catalan and he seemed nice aaaand now he dumped me when I told him I was pregnant he said it was my fault that right there I was on my own aaaand…it’s just that I felt so lonely and really bad… (…) …to his place he took me because he said I was the love of his whole life and he said he loved me and I felt happy and believed what he said… and you see he got tired of me and found himself another woman… (…) …my husband mustn’t know about this [pregnancy and abortion] so that’s why I can't have it…” Based on the interviews. they are extremely lonely: “…I’m here alone.” or “…the doctor didn’t want to put the ‘T’ [IUD] in me he said that I was too young …and without a partner…. Frequently. a man who uses a condom is a sissy…. but not work in it). that is. to arrange for their partners and their daughters and sons to emigrate to the country (who are legally permitted to live in the country. the loneliness and the major social and cultural change immigrant women must experience.” “I’m a very staunch Catholic. Solitude is a further factor that increases the likelihood of not using contraceptives. meaning they want to use contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies.” or “I truly believe in God. 4 . Usually they do not use contraception because: “…it’s God who decides if you become pregnant or not…. Normally.” “very devout Evangelical. Many women assume the pregnancy as their own fault and even relieve their partner of any blame for the situation. Many of them “take care of themselves” or “plan”. the term for this is “reunifying” someone. Apart from the economic instability.”. they must also tackle the contradiction that having an abortion entails if religious beliefs lead them to say they are. Frequently they live with their partner after a relationship of only a few months because it is preferable to feeling lonely.” Further comments on the immigrant women who represent 70% of the interviewees The ethnographical study includes examples of the ways in which women from different cultures apprehend the world. “very believing. This may 6 “Family reunification”: Under the governing law.” “…in my country. once they have lived in Spain for 5 years or more. will. immigrant women may start the application process for family reunification.

thus becoming dependent on their husband or partner. From the interviews I detected that in quite a short space of time the first conflicts between the couple would arise. Spanish and Catalan interviewees The majority of Spanish and Catalan women interviewed came from Barcelona city and its metropolitan area.be one of the reasons why the immigrant women interviewed were silent when asked why they did not use methods of contraception. Most of them had a secondary school education. 5 . based on the notion of a ‘lesser evil’. in between which unwanted pregnancies occurred. claiming that they did not enjoy studying. and only a few from other parts of Spain. or had to work because their families needed money. in fewer numbers from elsewhere in Catalonia. they decided to have an abortion when faced with the responsibility of having a child and not being able to provide it with the necessary care. these women were forced to become housewives and to depend on the income of their husbands or partners. They were unable to go back to the same employment situation after they had their child because they had no one to care for the baby while they were at work. later followed by reconciliations and further separations. A new pregnancy follows shortly after. They held the belief that God “would understand” their dilemma and the choice they made. as well as temporary breakups that are sometimes final. several of the women left their jobs when they become pregnant. seemingly due to social and cultural teachings in their countries of origin. despite the briefness of the love. The same was observed in Catalan and Spanish women but to a lesser degree. In many of their narratives. because they ‘feel’ loved when the men say they want to have a child with them and interpret this as 'a sign of love'. Their low level of schooling and limited job opportunities gave them access only to jobs in the tertiary sector that required little qualification and were so poorly paid that they could barely cover their needs. I found that many of the men resort to psychological and/or physical abuse that ends in conflict and aggression against their partners. after a brief period of mourning. The women return to the men and forgive them. Another feature of immigrant women is their level of dependence on their partner. and tensions progressively acted upon their relationship. The women seem to have a need for their partners to tell them how good they are as wives. most of the women had an eclectic stance. With regard to religious practices and their influence on using contraceptives and coming to terms with abortion. based on the assumption that “everyone wants a child when they love someone”. whose salaries tended to only just meet the family’s needs. In most cases. “living with my husband in concubinage” or "sharing a loose relationship but I’ll marry him some day”. leading to separations and arguments. or they could not afford a nursery or secure a state benefit for this purpose. sooner or later. Therefore. with a certain frequency. the couple breaks up. enter into a new relationship which quickly turns into “living by that guy’s side”. although in several cases they had not completed these studies. Most of them come from an urban context. while the women. the men abandon their partners and children. started to have boyfriends. However. The outcome of many such signs of love is a child and. even when the latter have won other women and have sexual intercourse with them. That is. mothers and workers.

as the ethnographed testimonies reveal. Beyond doubt. abortions. certain issues persist. Driven by the above-mentioned circumstances. the question as to why contraception is not used in sexual relations when pregnancy is not intended. all of which are sufficiently entrenched to prevent precaution in coital relations.Sexual and reproductive health in the ethnographed women Many of the immigrant women and Spanish and Catalan women referred to the problems and barriers they had to face to have access to reproductive and sexual health services. as if they were solely the woman’s responsibility. but at the same time based on personal resources and capabilities. almost all 7 the ethnographed women had experienced an abortion. As mentioned above. delays of several months in the provision of services. the legalization of abortion in three specific circumstances in 1985. Some of the most common aspects. these are resources that have important deficiencies which affect not only immigrant women but all women. for often they do not know how the health system works and how to use it. the divorce law in 1981. overcrowding. i. Moreover. specific aspects must be considered. This is evidenced by the interviewees’ desire to “take care of themselves”. the inherent failures of methods of contraception themselves. are the scarce resources allocated for addressing the sexual and reproductive health of men and women. whether due to the lack of doctor’s prescription or due to its price. which seems to indicate an unwanted pregnancy. such as not understanding of the language. religion and custom.e. Another argument is that “God wishes to send a child and you should not disrespect Him by preventing it" or that “It’s not the same” (what they experience cannot be compared to using a condom. and the poor transfer of information by certain sectors of medical personnel in general. This is apart from other factors. and sexually transmitted infections. the changes that have taken place in Spain in the last thirty years have been remarkable and have made fundamental changes to the lives of Spanish women. the reasons are often unexpected and connected with the couple. 7 Some of the interviewees decided not to abort and went ahead with the pregnancy. pregnancy. however. Despite the presumed progress. and what health. difficulty in acquiring contraception. women’s access to a university education and jobs (with the resulting independence this gave them). illness. sexual legitimation and progress in the achievement of equal rights for men and women. for instance. These restrictions and setbacks affect immigrant women even more so. as a sign of their masculinity. and even the refusal to use a condom. After analyzing the data obtained. the ‘default’ outcomes of these actions are unwanted pregnancies. Whether they are Spanish or Catalans or immigrants. such as the difficulties women have in using the methods of contraception correctly. and therefore they decide to “pull out”). 6 . the family. for public health is a right in Spain. such as the legalization of contraceptives in 1978. Another such aspect is the men’s inhibition where contraceptive precautions are concerned. to use contraception and prevent sexually transmitted infections. I can assert that immigrant women are undergoing the same process most Spanish and Catalan women have been undertaking over the past 30 years with regard to sexual and reproductive health services. abortion and maternity may involve in different cultures. Normally. Therefore.

because they are anxious not to involve 7 . you know?…actually. you know? and I thought that it all went away when he pulled out to come and that nothing would happen… (…) …[She is asked why she did not take contraceptives] …To tell you why. as they express it. he did use it quite a lot but I was really surprised because before coming well he took it off and came outside of me. Teenage girls normally have boyfriends in their same age group. Teenage girls tell their partners about their pregnancies. it's okay…you get pregnant when you’ve been doing it for a while…when you do it a lot of times and all that. you know what I mean?…” Some of the reasons teenagers give for not using contraception in their sexual relations can be quite surprising: “…I don’t take pills [contraceptive pills] because he doesn’t want me to and I love him so much well I don’t take them because he says that if I do it’s because I want to be with someone else…that I’m going to get laid by someone else…and he tells me not to take them and it’s because he’s jealous because he loves me…because he’s a good person…and then…yes. given their family and economic situation. with whom they establish relationships that last between 2 months and 2-3 years. most of the young people replied: “…he always used a condom well that’s what he said and I believed him. omissions of contraceptives that may end in pregnancy and abortion as an alternative to contraceptives appear in a different light when teenagers are involved. although sometimes they do not. Their narratives evolve around ‘accidental’ pregnancies caused by inadequate use or omission of contraceptives in relationships that “are not going anywhere”. When asked why they do not use contraceptives. because it takes two.Reasons teenagers give for not using contraception The desire to become pregnant. he got scared…now he did!…he tells me to take them once this [the abortion] is done with so it won’t happen again and I will because now he’s got the idea…” “…he loves me a lot he takes care of me better care than my mother. we didn’t. even! …he pays attention to everything… he knows when I have my period and which are the risky days to do it [to have sexual relations] and he pulls out in time…well. almost always! because sometimes he can't and so I'm going to take the pill [post-coital pill]… (…) … he doesn’t want me to take pills [contraceptive pills] or the ring [the vaginal ring] like his sister because he says that if I use it or take pills it’s because I don’t trust him… when he gets mad at me he tells me don’t you dare take them [contraceptives] because he‘s sure it’s because I want to do it with someone else… (…) … he wants them to get rid of it [to have an abortion] more than anything because he doesn't want any problems he says he doesn't want children and that's why he tells me to get rid of it and that he'll be more careful after that…" Many teenagers find abortion easier to deal with than adult women do because they do not have plans for a steady relationship and they think the time has not come for them to have children. “…for me it’s the first time this has happened to me [referring to her pregnancy] and I don’t have a clue about what happened because it’s the first time I ever did it and he didn’t come inside he came outside and I just don’t know what happened… (…)… I don’t see how I got pregnant because a friend told me that at first you can’t get pregnant because since it’s the first time well. right?…”. I’d have to lie or make it up… I can’t say why I didn’t use anything…well.

It is a wonderfully emancipative instrument (Héritier. most methods of contraception target women. which made them stop taking the pill or using an intrauterine device. However. they were dispatched in a couple of minutes and prescribed a battery of tests that took weeks before they could see a specialist. Occasionally. even today. either through lack of foresight or mere omission. suffer headaches and become unusually moody. When the women went through the steps and finally saw a doctor. Evidently. The issue Héritier appears to address is how women still do not ‘see’ themselves as subjects and remain ensconced in the notion of being objects. Héritier rotundly proclaims. women do not realize the full scope of contraception” (Diario La Nación. The anthropologist asserts that men accepted the development and widespread use of contraceptives “…because they did not realize what they would do…” (Héritier. Methods of contraconception and women’s reproaches The emergence of methods of contraconception meant an entirely new world for women. forget about it. for the first time in history. Many of the women interviewed reported that they stopped taking hormone contraceptives because they made them gain weight. 2007). Diario La Nación. the delay in getting an appointment (4 to 6 months) forced them to desist. Varicose veins and frequent vomiting and dizzy spells were other unwelcome symptoms. It is no wonder. men needed women’s consent to procreate. Diario La Nación. Each method of contraception has a series of side effects that affect women’s health to a certain extent. The women explained that they did not want to stop taking the pill but they made appointments with their gynecologists to switch to another method of contraception. for it touches upon the exact moment in which female dominance takes place. or get pregnant in the interim. 2007). as opposed to the virtues of maternity. an ambiguity apprehended in the course of History. The sum of issues could give rise to reluctance to and rejection of abortion. With the exception of male contraceptives and vasectomies. Perhaps that is why so many women still do not employ methods of contraception in their coital relations. said the interviewees. then. Many of the women were annoyed because drugstores refused to sell them contraceptives over the counter. the women complained about the symptoms caused by contraceptives. they were prescribed contraceptives with no examination at all. which meant it would have been better to be sold the contraceptives over the counter without having to go through the entire time-consuming process. It is the women who must choose a contraceptive and assume responsibility for continued use to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. they could have chosen another method of contraception. vaginal ring and so on.them in a process they believe to be theirs only or because they do not view their relationship as stable. alleging that they had to go in for a checkup and get a prescription for the right kind of contraceptive. “I believe that. that in their testimonies. 8 . Many health professionals did not give much importance to women’s grievances but the side effects they experienced are a recurrent theme in the interviewees’ narratives and reflect their discomfort. 2007). Héritier points out that contraceptives were a tremendous revolution because. but they and their partners had grown accustomed to relatively reliable methods and discarded any others.

anonymity. The difficulty involved in finding information on where to go for an abortion and how to apply for financial assistance. because if they had. condoms and intrauterine devices. post-abortion complications. kept confidential and were not entered in the woman's medical record. “…no I didn’t use anything and he didn’t either…why? I don’t really know… I’m not in the habit I’ve never used any method and that’s why I didn’t think I’d get pregnant … (…) … I’m really feeling sensitive these days and I cry all the time… I think I wanted to [get pregnant]…I know that’s crazy but I’ve been thinking about it because even I can't understand it I mean why I didn’t use some kind of method…” In the scenarios described so far. and be readily available to women and men of any age. while not totally safe. with the intention of getting pregnant. personalized or mechanical care. a miscalculation of the fertile days. they did not forget to take precautions deliberately. still provide around 99% assurance that pregnancy will be prevented. the intrauterine device (IUD) and subcutaneous implants. the women still reported a considerable number of unwanted pregnancies. where they were given immediately. I infer that it is due to “carelessness” during the conception connected with unsuspected reasons that emerged during the interviews. Appointments for post-coital pills. in a technical sense. a doctor’s prescription was required in Spain. and so on. Grievances with regard to abortion as a radical method of contraception appeared in the narratives closely connected to each woman’s particular circumstance. Even so. and the anxiety with which they endured the process were some of the factors most frequently mentioned by the interviewees. slipping or inadequate insertion of the intrauterine device (IUD). however. In view of the conditions in which the women contended that the other two thirds of unplanned pregnancies occurred. were handled at the Primary Health Care Centre’s emergency service. it cannot be said that the women (and their partners) had taken every precaution to prevent a pregnancy. The latter two devices are worth the extra cost if one considers the years of contraceptive protection they afford. interactions with drugs prescribed to combat pathologies that diminished or annulled the effects of the oral contraceptive. unpleasant incidents with the staff. detachment of the transdermal patch. I found that more than one third of the unwanted pregnancies were due to failures in the method of contraception used. condoms and the pill should be sold for a symbolic price or be free of cost.). These are ambivalent situations in which an omission 8 At the time of this research. Nonetheless. Getting a prescription involved making an appointment to see a doctor. So was mistreatment on the part of certain health care professionals when they expressed a desire to abort. the reliability of widely-used contraceptive techniques such as the pill. to each woman’s perception of the process and her personal resources.Another aspect criticized by the women was the cost of contraceptive pills. the kind of attention they received at the hospitals (respect. The interviewees held similar views with regard to postcoital contraceptives. that is. was mentioned. 9 . incorrect placement of the vaginal ring. it would not have occurred. who gave her information on the potential side effects and what to do if they occurred. waiting time. if necessary. male condoms. Reckless conception or wrong contraception? As mentioned above. but in the opinion of most of the interviewees. I infer from this that a reliable number of unwanted pregnancies would be due to torn condoms. etc. and a prescription for free oral contraceptives. which they felt should be available to women over the counter 8 . In the interviews.

and the institutions that provide services. Omission was the reason for resorting to abortion most frequently cited. and after two years without a partner or relations or anything well I got pregnant the very first time because I was careless I don't take the pill or anything and he well he didn't have…he pulled out but something must have stayed in but I just can’t understand it… (…)…I can’t have a child now because we don’t even know each other it’s not the right time and because I have a girl age 7 and he has two kids of 9 and 13 who are with him so it's impossible to have a child in the situation the two of us are in… (…)…besides with no future to give the kid that's born…no way! it's very hard for me but I have no choice…" Relationship between violence against women. social networks. It fell within the category of the accidental. The social level comprises tolerance of violence. Thus. 1998: 284). the women may fear abuse or actually be the victims of abuse if they use contraceptives without their partners' consent: 10 . Many women fear their partners or suffer violence from them. Moral considerations also came into play. The individual level includes factors that increase a woman’s risk of being subject to violence or of a person committing violence. In other words. pregnancy and abortion Lori Heise (1998:265) provides a conceptual model to determine the connection between violence against women. the interpersonal level and the community level. In relation to the social level pointed out by Heise. violation as an instrument. is interrupted. if not impossible. she factors in an individual’s immediate environment: the wider community with certain rules and local beliefs. pregnancy. rigid gender codes and restricted access to abortion. marital conflict with the acceptance or tolerance of violence as a way of solving problems and the prohibition of using contraceptives. as though the new being would be deprived of living a full life under such circumstances: “…well we met around three months ago. Heise adds factors that affect personal relationships with partners or the family.leads to pregnancy and abortion is the remedy to a precaution that was not taken. pregnancy and abortion. Moreover. At the interpersonal level. to mention contraceptives to them. At the community level. the interviews conducted in this research revealed cases in which the women reported having been sexually forced by their partners. At the interpersonal level described by Heise ranks male dominance of his partner. community. the result of fortuitous circumstances connected to unintentional mechanical failures in the contraceptives used. more or less. the desire to get pregnant overrides the method of contraception which would have been advisable. if any. abortion and the consequences of all these at three levels: the individual level. and they often say that it is difficult. the community level encompasses cultural values and beliefs that have an impact on the other two levels. Culture codes involving male dominance and men’s sexual right over women expressly relate violence. interpersonal and individual level (Heise. The aspects that can affect and produce a connection between violence. A precarious and unstable situation that ruled out the intention of living together as a couple was among reasons the women gave for being unable to continue with the pregnancy. pregnancy and abortion are differentiated according to the social. Abortion annuls the negligence with regard to contraception and the possibility of pregnancy. ideas regarding honor.

As many interviewees reported.” These narratives make it clear that men often prefer to leave the burden of contraception to their partners because. Women immigrants report that their partners forced them to stop using contraceptives before setting out on their migration journey: “…before I came here he made me take out the T [intrauterine device] because he said that since I wasn’t going to have relations here because he stayed there and I went to the doctor to have it taken out…and that’s why I don’t want the T because he doesn’t know about my pregnancy and I can’t let them place it in me because my husband would notice and I can’t tell him anything…he doesn’t know what I’m going to do because it was here that I have a new relationship…I felt so lonely here…aaaand then. how could I explain the T to him…?” “…he calmed down then because before I came here I had the T [intrauterine device] taken out because he didn’t want me to come with the T and why are you going there with the T if I'm staying here and you're leaving to work? he always said that until I had it taken out and then he calmed down…” 11 . a woman’s independent decision on whether or not to use contraceptives is viewed by many men as an attempt to escape their control or as proof that “their woman” is unfaithful to them or planning to be in the future. it is the men who decide whether or not the women should use contraceptives. paradoxically.“…he always told me he was careful and that he did it outside that it ended up outside…and that's why he didn't let me use the T or take pills…and I was so afraid that I didn’t dare say anything…to say no to him…” “…I think that's actually what he wanted to tie me to him to have me dependent on his will because he didn't want me to take anything he said that way I wouldn't harm my health…I think he only wanted to get my pregnant to tie me to him so I wouldn’t go off…that’s why I want to have an abortion without him knowing maybe I’ll tell him later but now I’ll think of something I don’t know that I aborted all of a sudden or something like that…" “…he discovered that I took pills [the pill] and threw them out the window into the street telling me not to take them ever again and he has such a bad temper he was so angry he hit me he hurt me a lot and when they heard my screams they called the police and took him away I don't know where they've got him locked up… (…) …he always told me I would have to accept all the children God gave me that’s why I couldn’t plan [take contraceptives]…" “… I’m going to ask him I’ll tell my husband because he knows about that [contraception] I don’t know I never used anything only my days [Ogino-Knaus method]…I’ll ask him about what you told me this morning [she was offered the placement of an intrauterine device at the Association] may I come back [to the Association] and tell you if he says yes?…” “…you are different here because in my country women can’t go to the doctor alone or anything because their husband always has to go with them because if they go alone they don’t get care and that’s why my husband…I tell him about everything and he decided for them to place the T the IUD [intrauterine device] after they do it…[an abortion]. Women who have to conceal their methods of contraception for fear of their partner's violence do not use contraceptives properly or do not have the courage to use an intrauterine device (IUD).

Center for Reproductive Rights. I observed in some testimonies that pregnancy is a factor that triggers a partner’s physical and psychological violence in the form of punishing the woman for getting pregnant. Certain studies substantiate with evidence that childhood abuse is the tendency of female victims to participate in risk-taking behavior that affects the use of contraceptives (De Bruyn. contagion of sexually transmitted diseases and economic dependence. the failure or non-use of contraceptives and so on. Muslims and Evangelists. and then refuse to follow the method’s guidelines: “…I count my days but he doesn’t care it’s when he wants and that’s that! and of course he’s so manly! he doesn’t want to use a condom because he says it wasn’t made for him but he always wants sex. blows and abandon. United Nations Development Fund for Women. 2007.Many women reveal that defying their partners can cause threats. even in the questions on miscarriages. sex and more sex!…and I don't…and it’s because I can't because I’m always so tired with all the work and the housework and my three children and everything!…maybe you could tell him talk with him and explain to him so he’d understand me. but they do not mention violence. 12 . Here there is a direct connection between unwanted pregnancy and not using contraceptives. A number of women asserted that they were "profoundly” religious (Catholics. “what my mother (or any other authoritative female family member) says” or “what our father taught us” with having an abortion. pregnancy and abortion at the level of the individual. they cannot prevent unwanted pregnancies. That is. you know? because I've just run out of words with him it’s no use he doesn’t listen and maybe he'd listen to you…" Connection between violence. 2007. which symbolized breaking the rules and customs. To avoid such situations they obey their partners and do not use or stop using contraceptives. Apparently. It is essential for abortion-related research to examine violence as well. the women’s partners may force them to use ineffective methods. As a result. as several narratives collected in the course of our research shows. the responses described are unspecific. where abuse and rape can be the cause of the pregnancy and violence the action that puts an end to it. rape and incest. pregnancy and abortion from an individual's perspective Let us return to Heise’s conceptual model and the aspects that can associate violence. unprotected sex. contain and integrate. such as “unexpected pregnancy”. problems with the intimate partner and family problems. In the literature and studies consulted (Senanayake and Potts. 2003:11). in this research). which were conducted in countries where abortion is legal and there are few restrictions regarding the reasons for aborting. They expressed intense anguish when they stated their decision to interrupt their pregnancies and the contradiction they had to face. In other cases. which is where childhood abuse and abuse by family or partners occurs. 1995. the women had to counterbalance the strong family principles they had integrated through socialization and interpreted as “what’s done in my family”. At the individual level. The reasons could also be more specific. 2006). a strong connection between religious beliefs and the use of contraceptives and resorting to abortion was detected during the interviews. International Planned Parenthood Federation. there is a tendency to exclude such a delicate topic as violence. In a similar vein. such as financial or health problems.

Maternity. contraception and so on. which is a characteristic of fecundated women conducive to acceptance of all their pregnancies. the husbands and partners translate the information for the women. Interpersonal factors also emerge in the interviews. where many women from Arab countries. because they are dull and ignorant. the situation is very clearly illustrated in the interviews conducted at the Association. while the women are shut away in their homes with no relationships with others. This situation is evident at the Association. and the men who explain that she did not take the necessary precautions and that is why she is pregnant. fecundity. at least it is not apparent in the examination conducted during the interviews. It is the men who provide the data regarding menstruation. if any. an approach that can pinpoint and reveal the standards connected to femininity and masculinity is essential. the women are illiterate or have not completed primary education.Considering that the majority of acts of violence against women is gender based. revealing that cultural standards for the role and status of women and men foster the belief that men are entitled to control and punish their wives. It is not until contraception became safer and available to most Western women in the 1960s. Pakistan. Therefore. women's lot for thousands of years. Such actions are not as casual as they may seem at first because how can one think that nothing will happen “just this once” if contraceptives are not used? In fact. but how they translate it and how much the women understand is not known. Bangladesh and African countries. The desire for motherhood. An evident contradiction underlies many unexpected pregnancies. but it does create a situation in which it is easier for violence. and they decide whether or not the women should use a method of contraception. This means they do not learn Catalan or Spanish. remitting to an unresolved conflict between practicing non-procreative sexuality and an unconscious desire to be 13 . This means that the only way they can be treated. the men say. when the interviews are conducted with women who need the intermediation of their husband or partner owing to the language barrier. the husbands or partners explain that it is they who provide the economic resources to support the women and their children. without consulting their female partners. In this sense. was transformed into a planned intention. however. still speak their native languages only. it will be easier to access and treat community factors. if any. fertility. Normally they scold the women if they do not remember something they are asked. Moreover. their situation of dependence and isolation is not visibly different. a project. Armed with this knowledge. India. Not knowing the language is not correlated to violence. not even with neighbors and people in their immediate surroundings. after years of living in Catalonia. that women’s sexuality became effectively separated from maternity. unwanted pregnancies are perceived as a failure or become unintended actions. consisting in the intention to avoid pregnancy and not taking adequate measures to prevent it. who accompany them at all times. By way of conclusion Contraceptives became a widespread practice that converted planning for children into a reality. to develop inadvertently. became a matter of choice. Even if they have reached the level of higher education. Frequently. such as the social and cultural tolerance that allows women to remain in a situation of violence and keeps them isolated. or carry out any activity in the public domain is to be represented by their husbands and partners. there are elements in the narratives that deflect conscious intention. It is always the men who carry the women's identity and health documents. At the request of specialist who attends to them at the Association.

To this we must add the fact that no method of contraception is one hundred percent safe. from which it is not completely removed. the women who mentioned a failure or omission that caused pregnancy seemed ready to admit a symbolic or psychological motivation when they studied their situation in the course of the interviews and became aware of their unconscious desire for motherhood. many women who seek an abortion or want to use emergency contraception report that they encounter institutional violence. Sometimes it could be said that the way to make the desire for motherhood come true is to transgress a method of contraception. responsibility or mistake”. In my opinion. and therefore the threat of unwanted pregnancy overshadows all heterosexual women’s coital sexual relations. The scenario they create also seems intended to prove that they are able to breed. Likewise. Therefore. an unwanted pregnancy may be beyond all attempts at planning and control. fecundity appears in connection with sexuality. a radical way of breaking their isolation or of proving they are still able to have children despite their age. expressed as “I thought I couldn't have children because I didn't get pregnant" by women who had taken precautions for a long time with effective contraception but were anguished by a presumed loss of fertility. it may be a way of gaining control over their partners. This male prerogative to decide is also found in many of the cases reported by Spanish and Catalonian interviewees. This is what seems to emerge from the explanations given by certain interviewees when asked why they did not use contraceptives. family. Spanish or Catalonian. society or employers. they were not given the post-coital pill. To summarize. Consequently. are physically and/or psychologically mistreated by their partners. whether they are immigrants. Although the fecundation is consciously rejected. It seemed incomprehensible to them how little control they had over themselves in such an important matter in which their partner is practically absent and excused because most of the women are convinced that the pregnancy is their “fault. On the other hand. African and Asian societies dictate that men must decide on matters related to fertility. This may be because they were denied their entitlement to abort. family and women themselves. Likewise. it is essential to state that when women. In any case. Many of them could not give a good reason for not using contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. it is not fully rejected. they tend to face situations that make it difficult to use contraceptives. in which case the only remedy is abortion. or they were not given adequate information when they expressed their desire to end the pregnancy. and therefore it can take place unexpectedly. 14 . the men have the authority to decide whether or not their women can use contraceptives. in general. Male violence against women is a recurrent situation for women immigrants because gender norms in Latin American. pregnancy and abortion that contravene women’s rights and their freedom to decide whether or not to procreate. Thus. Economic penury accelerates the deployment of male violence against women. poverty and a precariousness place women in a situation of extreme vulnerability in which physical and sexual violence seem to be the norm. In many cases. alcoholism and abandonment by their partners or leads some women to resort to sexual work. among other possible situations. the interviewees reported. they reported some of the aspects related to violence in connection with the omission of contraception. failure. their right to choose whether or not they wish to have children voluntarily and without being coerced is violated. they were not attended by the sexual health and reproduction services.fecundated.

RICH. 277 :56-59. Further Bibliographic Resources Legal Framework Spanish Organic Act 9/1985. Paragraphs 94. 20.L. DELGADO. I. 97. La maternidad como experiencia e institución. Violence against Women. TULUD CRUZ. Une sociologie de l’engendrement et de l’avortement. Madrid: Cátedra. (2003) La violencia. Un estudio de los datos mundiales y recomendaciones para la acción. [Online]. H. E. Health and Reproduction. (1981) “Male Hegemony in Family Planning”. (2004) La condition fœtale.P. Additional References BADINTER.) Women.boe. (2006) “Faith on the Edge: Religion and Women in the Context of Migration”. 4:262-290. London: Informa Healthcare.08].07. BOE (Spanish Official State Gazette) No. 15 (1): 9-25. 223. Carolina del Norte: Ipas. L. Brussels: IPPF European Network. ROBERTS. (1996) Nacemos de mujer.. (2003) “Maintenant. c’est la femme qui décide“. L. 1995). E. 15 . 216. (2004) Abortion SENANAYAKE. G. that amends Article 417 bis of the Spanish Civil Code. (1998) “Violence against Women: an integrated. Madrid: Ministerio de Asuntos Sociales. (1960) A Study of Abortion in Primitive Societies. INSTITUTO DE LA MUJER (1996) Declaración de Beijing y Plataforma para la Acción. Website: www. London: Thomas Yoseloff Ltd. POTTS.References DE BRUYN. G. INTERNATIONAL PLANNED PARENTHOOD FEDERATION Legislation in Europe. ecological model”. Cuestiones de derechos de la mujer y de salud pública. A. Boston: Beacon Press.es [Consulted. (2001) The Woman in the Body. (2001) “Las pautas anticonceptivas de las españolas a fines del siglo XX”. el embarazo y el aborto. (ed. En ROBERTS. of 5 July. 1:77-80. DEVEREUX. Aula Médica. MARTIN. London: Routledge. 96. 95. BOLTANSKI. HEISE. H. Feminist Theology. A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. IV Conferencia Mundial sobre las Mujeres (Beijing. M. (1995) An Atlas of Contraception. Instituto de la Mujer. L’Histoire. M. M. 166 – page 22041 – published on July 12th 1985. Paris : Gallimard.

on May 9th. [Consulted. [Online] Interview eith Françoise Héritier. July 4th.01.reproderechos. Programa d’atenció a la maternitat a risc.ar/cultura Electronic resources ASOCIACIÓN. Demography Section. El Periódico de Catalunya.09. [Online]. 16 . 14.48 fills per dona”. [Online]. Website: www.php [Consulted. 20.02.org [Consulted.08] CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS.08]. [Online]. Website: www.08] FONDO DE DESARROLLO DE LAS NACIONES UNIDAS PARA LA MUJER (UNIFEM) (2007) ¡Ni una más! El derecho a vivir una vida libre de violencia en Latinoamérica y el Caribe. 21.mx/cms/index.com.Press Diario El Periódico de Catalunya (2008) “Catalunya recupera la fecunditat del 1984 amb 1.lanacion. Friday.org. Leyes sobre el aborto en el mundo. mayo 2007. Diario La Nación (2007) “El predominio de los hombres no tiene ningún fundamento”. Website: www. Memoria 2006. Hoja informativa.unifem.