Accepted paper:

Healing the wounds of abortion: pro-life activism and the (re)construction of denied motherhood


Claudia Mattalucci (Università di Milano Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes the discourses and practices of pro-life activism, paying particular attention to the re-signification of abortion as an event that adversely affects women's reproductive health and wellbeing.

Paper long abstract:

My analysis of some strategies used by pro-lifers to contest abortion stems from ethnographic research conducted in Northern Italy between 2009 and 2013. The presentation focuses on women seen as "victims of abortion". Based to this idea, in most cases abortions are coerced and cause women physical and emotional harm. In recent years some pro-life associations and individual practitioners have started to offer spiritual healing and psychological assistance to women who have had abortions. My paper discusses two forms of post-abortion healing: one offered by the Italian branch of Rachel's Vineyard (an international Catholic association active in Italy since 2010), and the other proposed by a Catholic psychologist and family counselor who treats women, either individually or in groups. In both cases, the healing processes, which draw largely on the Catholic religion, are aimed at reconciling the parties involved in abortion. Recognizing the aborted "child" is an essential element of the post-abortion healing experience, which involves the naming, the celebration of a symbolic funeral, a memorial mass, etc. For pro-life healers, recognizing the child and entrusting him to God through ritual leads to the reconstruction of lost motherhood. The recent spread of post-abortion healing has given visibility to the fact that abortion causes suffering for some women. In the current national debate on abortion, these newly introduced practices feed a counter-discourse that echoes the 70s pro-choice argument centered on women, and condemns abortion as a violation of their right to be mothers and as an event that causes harm to their physical and mental health.

panel P22
Health and wellbeing in post-war Europe: the contentious issue of abortion