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Timing is everything: the demarcation of 'later' abortions in Scotland

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Publication details

JournalSocial Studies of Science
DatePublished - 2012
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)53-74
Original languageEnglish


Feminist STS analyses of contemporary reproductive medicine have illustrated the proliferation of practices that position fetuses as individual subjects, and have highlighted the major implications of such practices for pregnant women. In an attempt to challenge medicine's claims to 'know' the fetus, this body of literature has also demonstrated the renegotiable basis of pregnant/fetal subjectivity, using detailed empirical analyses of the practices through which particular pregnant and fetal subjects emerge in particular contexts. In this paper I contribute to this endeavour utilizing an empirical case study of an important, but neglected aspect of reproductive healthcare: the demarcation of temporal thresholds on abortion provision in the absence of diagnosed fetal abnormality. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with Scottish health professionals, I explore the discursive practices through which they demarcate 'later' abortion as a problematic decision. I argue that such practices are intimately dependent on particular co-constructions of temporality and pregnant/fetal subjectivity, and support this argument with reference to the counter-representations of the gestational timing of abortion that emerge from a minority of health professionals' accounts. I suggest that, collectively, this body of data illustrates the opportunities that (re)presenting temporality would afford those engaged in attempts to foster the construction of less oppressive pregnant/fetal subjectivities. My broader aim is to illustrate the insights that feminist theorizations of pregnant/fetal subjectivity gain from explicit engagement with another important theme of contemporary STS scholarship, namely, the constitutive role played by representations of temporality in technoscientific innovation and practice.

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