Abortion approval as a ritual of symbolic control

Delila Amir*, Orly Biniamin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The variability of abortion laws and particularly, of the mechanisms employed to implement them attests to the socio-cultural specificity of the concrete solutions to the universal problem of reproductive control. The present study examines the implementing mechanisms of the abortion law in Israel, which is a medical committee. Based on interviews with 29 social workers (all women) who serve on the committees, this paper examines how the committees operate. At one and the same time it describes the “control culture” which emerges within the legal procedure; that is, the mechanism's structure, language, accepted discourses and rituals. Foucault's concepts of power/knowledge were found to be most enlightening in this context of regulating abortions. The analysis of the abortion approval procedures portray characteristics of a ritual. A ritual that is analogous to a juvenile court on the one hand, threatening but not really punishing, and on the other hand, a confessional situation in which the woman has to confess her normative wayward behavior such as extra-marital relations, not using contraception, and enjoying sex with no reproductive intentions. The reinforcement of normative attitudes toward women and espesicially toward motherhood is manifested in the expressions used by the committee members referring to the pregnant woman's future behavior and the expectations from her to abide by them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-25
Number of pages21
JournalWomen and Criminal Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1992


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