Abortion, Motherhood and Mental Health
Medicalizing Reproduction in the US and Britain
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Whatever reproductive choices women make--whether they opt to end a pregnancy through abortion or continue to term and give birth--they are considered to be at risk of suffering serious mental health problems. According to opponents of abortion in the United States, potential injury to women is a major reason why people should consider abortion a problem. On the other hand, becoming a mother can also be considered a big risk. This fine, well-balanced book is about how people represent the results of reproductive choices. It examines how and why pregnancy and its various outcomes have come to be discussed this way. The author's interest in the medicalization of reproduction--its representation as a mental health problem--first arose in relation to abortion. There is a very clear contrast between the construction of women who have abortions, implied by moralized argument against abortion, and the construction that results when the case against abortion focuses on its effects on women's mental health. Lee argues that claims that connect abortion with mental illness have been limited in their influence, but this is not to suggest that they have not become a focus for discussion and have had no impact. The limits to such claims about abortion do not, by any means, suggest limits to the process of the medicalization of pregnancy more broadly, that is, a process of demedicalization. The final theme of Ellie Lee's book is the selective medicalization of reproduction. Centering on the claim that abortion can create a post abortion syndrome, the author examines the "medicalization" of the abortion problem on both sides of the Atlantic. Lee points to contrasts in legal and medical dimensions of the abortion issue that make for some important differences, but argues that in both the United States and Great Britain, the post-abortion-syndrome claim constitutes an example of the limits to medicalization and the return to the theme of motherhood as a psychological ordeal. Lee makes the case for looking to the social dimensions of mental health problems to account for and understand debates about what makes women ill. Ellie Lee is research fellow in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Southampton, Highfield, United Kingdom.