Thursday, December 5, 2013

Response to “Esto Si Se Dice: Women's Experiences with Illegal Abortion in Highland Bolivia, 1952-2010” Brown Bag

            Tuesday’s BB consisted of a discussion and personal reflection by visiting Professor Tasha Kimball on her work in Bolivia. Professor Kimball’s research revolved around the controversial topic of illegal abortion and unwanted pregnancy in Bolivia.
            According to the talk, there are high rates of abortion and unwanted pregnancies all over Latin America, and especially in Bolivia, where about 40% of births are unwanted. This is an important issue to research and discuss because illegal abortions are often followed by complications in women and/or high maternal death rates. As one would expect, the topic of (illegal) abortion is a highly stigmatized and controversial topic, although it is a topic that needs to be addressed since women may find themselves in dangerous situations or face the serious, horrifying consequences of medical complications and/or death. For her research, Prof Kimball wanted to construct the history of abortion from social, medical and political perspectives, as well as learn about women’s personal experiences with unwanted pregnancies in Bolivia. While it is important to research the structural issues that cause high rates of illegal abortions and unwanted pregnancies, listening to and sharing the stories of women who personally experienced an illegal abortion/unwanted pregnancy is crucial information. It gives a voice to these women and creates a space for them to openly discuss these stigmatized issues. Although some of the anecdotes were very sad and horrifying, I appreciate these women for sharing their stories with Prof Kimball. It also allows Prof Kimball to share the information she gathered and give insight as to the reasons for high rates of abortions/unwanted pregnancies and their consequences, information that can benefit the state and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
            Something that interested me the most was when Prof Kimball talked about the differences between women in Bolivia and women in the U.S. In the U.S., the language of personal choice and personal rights surround the topic of abortion, while in Bolivia, women feel they have a communal and social responsibility. Prof Kimball connects this to the fact that about 70% of the population in Bolivia is indigenous. Although I do not know about the Aymara people, and I know not all indigenous peoples are the same, I often hear about how indigenous peoples prioritize the needs of the community over individual needs. It is interesting to see how this idea is used in the context of reproductive rights within the Bolivian communities where Prof Kimball conducted her research.
            While her findings were very interesting, her self-reflection and critique as a researcher was also a major aspect of her presentation. She was insightful and candid about her research process, expressing the limitations and challenges she foresaw and the possible ways to address them. Some of these limitations include issues with language and translation or her personal identity. But no amount of preparation can fully prepare researchers, as Prof Kimball explained in her talk. One challenge and ethical dilemma that Prof Kimball shared with us was a mistake she made when talking to the press about her work. Although she made sure to protect the anonymity (and identifying details) of her participants and allies, the press manipulated Prof Kimball’s research in an unforeseen manner, that put a lot of scrutiny on NGOs and other medical organizations that provide reproductive health services to women, since abortions are illegal in Bolivia. Many people in the audience appreciated Prof Kimball’s honesty and willingness to share this experience that led to serious consequences. I am also glad to hear that she is mending her ties with her participants and allies.
            Overall, it was a very good brown bag that addressed a controversial issue, illegal abortions and unwanted pregnancies in Bolivia, as well as the controversies that may occur with conducting research with people.

-Valerie Garcia ’15 

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