Ghanaian law states that an abortion is legal if performed by a medical professional and, “the pregnancy is the result of rape, defilement of a female idiot, or incest; when continuation of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman or injury to her physical or mental health; or where there is substantial risk that if the pregnancy were carried to term the child would suffer from or later develop a serious physical abnormality or disease,” (H.M. Schwandt et al., 2013). However, words on paper have yet to translate to reality. Still, unsafe abortions are the second major cause of maternal death in Ghana, (H.M. Schwandt et al., 2013). Unfortunately, this is due to a wide range of cultural, social, biological, political, and religious reasons. More specifically, BMC Women’s Health has researched and identified seven major factors for why Ghanaian women undergo unsafe abortions; lack of knowledge of services, socio-economic conditions, abortion perceived as taboo, stigma of unplanned pregnancy, a desire to bare children only after marriage, avoiding parental disappointment, and desire to pursue education (Atakro et al., 2019). To analyze this epidemic on a deeper level we must look at this epidemic through an anthropological lens, using the Interpretive Theory.
Interpretive Theory seeks to answer two main questions. First, what is the meaning that humans ascribe to this event or circumstance, and second, how does the meaning (the interpretation) of the event or circumstance impact human health? In short, this theory sets out to explain how various health outcomes occur due to one’s cultural environment and beliefs. Basically, how our beliefs affect our biology. To explain this theory even further, we can look at Clifford Geertz’s book, “The Interpretation of Cultures”, where he describes the theory as such, “The essential vocation of interpretive anthropology is not to answer our deepest questions, but to make available to us answers that others, guarding other sheep in other valleys, have given, and thus to include them in the consultable record of what man has said,” (Geertz, 1973). Basically, this says that we make use of explanations that other people provide to us. This can help us to gain a better understanding as to why Ghanaian women are pursuing unsafe abortions, when safe ones are technically available to them. Of the seven factors that BMC Women’s Health provides, it is important to note that only of them is financially or economically related. The other six are culturally related, which gives us a big clue as to what is causing this epidemic, and why using the Interpretive Theory is the best way to analyze it.
11% of maternal deaths in Ghana are due to abortion-related complications (H.M. Schwandt et al., 2013). This may be a daunting statistic to look at, but it makes a lot of sense when we understand that there are a multitude of social and cultural influences. For example, abortion is perceived as taboo within Ghanaian culture because a large majority of Ghanaian people practice under the Christian and Muslim faith. Both faiths deem abortion as an act against God. To add further stress, women who who have unplanned pregnancies are stigmatized. “Many people in the Ashanti region expected women to get engaged and properly married before getting pregnant. Women who became pregnant outside wedlock avoided embarrassment by aborting their babies through unsafe means,” (Atakro et al., 2019). So women aren’t choosing unsafe abortions because the government will not allow it, but because their society will not allow it. By pursuing abortions through unsafe means, women are able to undergo the procedure in a more secret or discrete way.
Examining the unsafe abortion crisis through the lens of the anthropological Interpretive Theory, allows us to gain a better understanding of the reasons why this issue is occurring. The theory states that our beliefs, or our societal beliefs dictate our behaviors, and thus our health. Ghanaian culture strictly prohibits abortions due to a variety of cultural and religious beliefs. Therefore, and unfortunately, these societal beliefs are leading women to pursue unsafe means of aborting their pregnancies. This can lead to a variety of complications, including death. Given that if a woman survives, there can still be issues with bleeding, severe pain, fever, discharge, or perforation (Guttmacher Institute, 2010).
Atakro, C. A., Addo, S. B., Aboagye, J. S., Menlah, A., Garti, I., Amoa-Gyarteng, K. G., . . . Boni, G. S. (2019). Contributing factors to unsafe abortion practices among women of reproductive age at selected district hospitals in the Ashanti region of Ghana. BMC Womens Health, 19(1).
Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Guttmacher Institute. (2010, July). Abortion in Ghana. Retrieved from https://www.guttmacher.org/report/abortion-ghana
Schwandt, H. M., Creanga, A. A., Adanu, R. M., Danso, K. A., Agbenyega, T., & Hindin, M. J. (2013). Pathways to unsafe abortion in Ghana: The role of male partners, women and health care providers. Contraception, 88(4), 509-517.