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Running the Gauntlet: Women's Use of Emotion Management Techniques in the Abortion Experience


Direct all correspondence to Jennifer Keys, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, North Central College, 116 S. Brainard House (Mailbox 436), Naperville, IL 60540; e-mail:


Women who have abortions are caught in the crossfire of a heated ideological battle. The prochoice contention is that most women feel relieved after terminating an unwanted pregnancy. The antiabortion camp asserts killing an unborn child psychologically scars the mother. Drawing on in-depth interviews with forty women who have terminated a pregnancy, this study examines how the clashing emotion culture of abortion politics shapes women's feelings about abortion. Findings indicate that women use behavioral and cognitive techniques in an attempt to transform unpleasant physiological reactions, inappropriate expressive gestures, and problematic emotional labels. As they run the gauntlet, women also strategically dodge or deliberately approach hazardous situational cues (e.g., abortion debate rhetoric and demonstrators, pictures of fetal development and the ultrasound, and babies and pregnant women) to achieve a feeling state that is consistent with their ideology.