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Psychological knowledge production about abortion: the politics of location and representation
  1. Catriona Ida Macleod,
  2. Jabulile Mary-Jane Jace Mavuso,
  3. Malvern Chiweshe,
  4. Ryan du Toit
  1. Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to Professor Catriona Ida Macleod, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa; c.macleod{at}


Background Despite considerable psychology research being conducted on abortion, there has been no study of the history of psychological knowledge production on the topic. The aim of our research was to analyse journal articles published in English language psychology journals using a politics of location and of representation analytical lens.

Study design A systematic search for articles published on abortion in psychology journals from 1960 to 2015 was conducted. A mixed-method approach (content analysis and narrative review) was used to analyse the dataset. Articles were coded according to: decade of publication, region, types of research conducted, and main issues focused on. A narrative review of the dominant issue researched – psychological consequences – in two decades (the 1970s and 2000s) was conducted.

Results Knowledge production began in the 1970s in most regions featured in the dataset and in the 1990s in South Africa. Research is dominated by quantitative studies conducted in North America and Europe concerning the demarcation of psychological consequences of abortion performed under safe conditions. In the 1970s, abortion was viewed as leading to benign psychological consequences, but by the 2000s traumatology talk was firmly entrenched. Only one article, emanating from South Africa, addressed the question of unsafe abortion.

Conclusions Knowledge production in psychology needs to move beyond a narrow focus on the psychological consequences of abortion and attitudes to abortion. Nuanced, contextualised research of the psychology of both safe and unsafe abortion is necessary.

  • history
  • psychology
  • abortion
  • termination of pregnancy
  • reproduction

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  • Contributors All authors contributed to the conceptualisation of the article. JM and MC collected and analysed the data, and commented on drafts of the article. CM wrote the first draft of the article and managed revisions. RT assisted with data analysis and commented on drafts of the article.

  • Funding This research was funded by the South African Research Chairs initiative of the Department of Science and Technology and National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant No. 87582).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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