The changing body work of abortion: a qualitative study of the experiences of health professionals

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Abstract

‘Body work’ has emerged at the nexus of sociologies of work and bodies as a means of conceptualising work focusing on the bodies of others. This article utilises this analytical tool in the context of contemporary abortion work. Abortion provision in Britain has seen significant change in the last 25 years, paralleling developments in medical methods, and the option for women under nine weeks' gestation to complete the abortion at home. These shifts raise questions around how abortion work is experienced by those who do it. We apply the conceptual lens of body work to data drawn from in-depth interviews with 37 health professionals involved in abortion provision, to draw out the character, constraints and challenges of contemporary abortion work. We explore three key themes: the instrumental role of emotional labour in facilitating body work; the temporality of abortion work; and bodily proximity, co-presence and changes in provision. By drawing on the conceptual frame of body work, we illuminate the dynamics of contemporary abortion work in Britain and, by introducing the idea of ‘body work-by-proxy’, highlight ways in which this context can be used to expand the conceptual boundaries of body work.

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