The “Perfect Abortion” Paradox: The Sales and Experiences of Private Abortion Services in China

Monday, 16 July 2018: 19:45
Oral Presentation
Ruby LAI, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
What kinds of influence do private abortion services and the development of healthcare industry exert on women’s health? How are women’s experiences of private abortion shaped by and contextualized in specific socio-cultural and political structures? This study aims at answering these questions by examining the advertising strategies that private hospitals use in their selling of abortion services and the experiences of women undergoing premarital abortion in post-socialist China. The author gathered qualitative data by surveying the websites of 317 private hospitals in China, interviewing 62 young women who had experienced abortions, and conducting ethnographic observation in private hospitals in a city in Northern China. Six sales strategies were identified based on the data: the celebration of high-end technology, the construction of “perfect abortion”, the mobilization of “woman-centered” principle, the emphasis on professionalism, the promotion of humanized services, and the exhibition of international affiliations. The findings show how private hospitals in China strategically co-opted feminist “woman-centered” principles and incorporated modern western medical discourses to attract customers and generate profits. They also reveal the gap between the alleged services and the actual treatments, as well as its potential health risks in, particularly, young women. The paper demonstrates the enabling and constraining effects of private abortion services on women’s agency. On the one hand, private hospitals demonstrated an accepting attitude towards women’s exercising of their autonomy – these hospitals approved of female sexuality and stressed their care for women’s health. On the other hand, they imposed limits on women’s agency by reasserting women’s duty to reproduce, and enhancing the supremacy and domination of medicalization on women’s bodies. These paradoxical effects mirror the changes and continuations of both conventional gender ideologies and prevailing perceptions of modern medical technologies, as well as the interactions of these ideologies and perceptions with the market in post-socialist China.