Reproductive manoeuvring: An ethnographic study about women's abortion and other reproductive experiences in the Faroe Islands

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesis


The PhD thesis ’Reproductive manoeuvring: An ethnographic study about women’s abortion and other reproductive experiences in the Faroe Islands’ aims to explore women’s lived reproductive experiences in the restrictive abortion landscape in the Faroe Islands. This is accomplished through in-depth interviews with 20 women and ethnographic insight from the Faroe Islands.
The study writes itself into a political hot topic. The abortion law in the Faroe Islands is an old Danish abortion law from 1956. In 2018 the law was delegated from Danish authorities to Faroe authorities in line with a standard procedure to delegate political affairs so that they are administered by Faroe authorities. The delegation initiated a more thorough debate in the society about the law. This has launched what I describe as a turbulent time in the reproductive landscape. These local turbulent times are amidst a global commotion about reproductive politics. We are currently witnessing profound changes to longstanding abortion laws. For instance the liberal decision of the US Supreme Court in the 1973 case Roe versus Wade was overturned, meaning that abortion is no longer a constitutional right for American women. On the other hand Ireland’s deep rooted restrictions to abortion took a shift in 2018 wi th the repeal of the Eight Amendment, mean-
ing that access to abortion care was liberalised.
This is to my knowledge the first PhD project exploring women’s lived reproductive experiences in the Faroes. However, the study also contributes to an already growing field of interest in women’s experiences, parenthood, and societal ambiguities and transformations (Ísfeld 2019; Gaini 2022b; Vang 2022; Djurhuus 2022; Í Skorini, Albinus, and Sølvará 2022). Notably, this study advances women’s voices and their lived experiences.
Theoretically the study draws on citizenship theories and anthropological and social science studies of morality and embodiment and emotion. The theoretical assemblage is found necessary because reproductive experiences are embedded in “social, cultural, economic and political relations and forces”(Inhorn 2007, 10; Ginsburg and Rapp 1991) and because the small-scale community constrains women’s reproductive experiences and choices in specific ways.
The study illustrates that women navigate inthe reproductive landscape to meet their reproductive needs, while also attending to and caring for their reproductive citizenship and belonging. I also employ the perspective of the small-scale island community to analyse what is at stake for the women. The small-scale community and its closely knit relations constrain women’s reproductive experiences and choices. Specifically the study suggests the concept of ‘reproductive manoeuvring’ which entails managing one’s own reproductive life. It functions as an umbrella term for other terms like navigating, contesting, testing and altering but with a purpose to understand them from a different perspective. It does so by analytically considering the seemingly unnoticed and unvoiced. This means that the concept considers ambivalences, subtleties, si-
lences, imaginations and hopes as legitimate components of reproductive lives, experiences and choices.
The first research article explores the abortion silence manifested in women’s lives. It suggests that the silences may be understoodas strategic manoeuvrings since they are posed in a quest for belonging. I however also suggest that the constrained choice of silence places women’s subjectivity in a conflict and that the belonging only reaches what I term a ‘performed belonging’.
The second research article co-authored with Prof. Emerita Betina Dybbroe, draws on the notion of embodied citizenship to analyseissues of reproductive citizenship. The analysis finds that women attain and maintain reproductive citizenship through interrelations. It is found that the interrelations refer to intimate relationships but also through trajectories of canonical narratives of e.g. the ‘Faroese grandmother’. The article concludes that reproductive citizenship is continuously sensed, remade, contested and tested and that this is done in an inter-relational manner.
The last analytical contribution explores the possibilities for subject positioning available to women who have had abortion. The analysis draws on the experienced turbulence in the reproductive landscape. The analysis finds that the turbulence, materialised in the pro-choice activist group Frítt Val – Fyri Fríari Abort, creates room for imaginations of an alternative subject positioning and understandings of selfhood. Furthermore, the analysis proposes that the imaginations are agentic transformations.
The three analytical contributions thus discuss respectively what silences mean in
women’s lives and lived experiences, how interr elations mediate reproductive citizenship and how imaginations are strategic and transformative. The analysed silences, interrelations and imaginations highlight the continge ncies and complexities of lived reproductive experiences.
While the thesis draws on and focuses on narrated lived experiences, it also provides a discussion of when the women experience a health system in this Nordic welfare state where abortion access is restricted. The study discusses how women’s understandings of themselves as valuable citizens in a modern and welfare regime are made complex, when they are faced with their restricted access to abortion care. The Nordic welfare states are considered to be woman-friendly (Freidenwall 2015) partly because the core principles of ‘equality, solidarity and universalism’ (Lis ter 2009, 246) pave the way for a more gender
equal society. Faroese women are thus facing the ambiguous situation of perceiving themselves as modern and valuable citizens living in a society with equal access to social services, health and opportunities while alsohaving restricted access to reproductive health care and having to ‘beg’ and have ‘the tail between my legs’, as women said.
The study proposes the need for a conceptual framework that goes beyond frameworks of ‘choice’ to better understand the contingencies and complexities of reproductive lives and lived experiences. Other scholars have also pointed to this need (Van der Sijpt 2014; Gammeltoft 2014), however this has often beenfrom contexts highly different from a Nordic welfare state. Therefore, the study contributes to the development of an alternative conceptual framework with empirical material from a Nordic welfare state.
Original languageEnglish
Place of publicationRoskilde
PublisherRoskilde Universitet
Number of pages231
ISBN (Print)9788791362330
ISBN (Electronic)9788791362347
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes
SeriesAfhandlinger fra Ph.d.-skolen for Mennesker og Teknologi


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