The Swedish Abortion Pill: Co-producing medical abortion and values, ca. 1965–1992
PhD-project: Morag Ramsey
Abortion pills have had a large impact. Since their introduction to national markets in the 1990s, scholars have examined how abortion pills have changed medical practices, illegal abortion, and reproductive activism. What has gone unstudied, however, has been the development and the history of abortion pills. This dissertation addresses this gap by examining how abortion pills were developed in Sweden. What political, legal, and moral processes were included in their development? What specific conditions in Sweden helped to support this research and what was its impact? Answering these questions further develops scholarship on medical abortion as well as the history of the Swedish welfare state’s reproduction management. The dissertation argues that the development of abortion pills co-produced new ways of understanding and valuing abortion
Beginning in 1965, Swedish researchers clinically tested compounds on pregnant women, hoping to induce abortion. This dissertation follows abortion pill research in Sweden by concentrating on clinical trial practices in the period between 1965 and 1992. An intricate web of actors is highlighted, showing collaboration between state institutes, pharmaceutical companies, non-profit organizations, media, researchers, and trial participants. Using perspectives from science and technology studies and by introducing the concept of abortion scripts, the book traces how abortion was made in these expanding research networks. Whereas earlier scholarship has focused on contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and emergency contraceptives, this dissertation shows how abortion pills also contested reproductive concepts during the mid-20th century. Abortion pill research challenged reproductive boundaries, moved medical procedures from the hospital to the home, and expanded family planning initiatives.
As abortion access impacts people’s reproductive choices, it is important to understand how concepts of abortion are made. The Swedish Abortion Pill maps a multitude of abortion scripts, detailing both change and continuity over time and makes visible the extent of the practical work that went into the development of medical abortion. While the technology is often attributed to research done by French researchers, this study reveals that decades of work in Sweden also contributed to the success of abortion pills.
Publications and presentations:
• "The versatility of abortion pills", Polyphony: Conversations Across the Medical Humanities, 2 August, 2021, Full text.
• The Swedish Abortion Pill: Co-producing medical abortion and values, ca. 1965–1992, Diss. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2021. Full text.
• “Making space for an abortion pill,” paper presentation, National STS Days, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, August 30–31, 2018.
• “Creating a space for abortion pills: Examining negotiation and collaboration,” Remaking reproduction: The global politics of reproductive technologies, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, June 27–29, 2018.
• “Value making practices in abortion pill research,” 7th STS Italia conference, University of Padova, Padova, Italy, June 14–16, 2018.
• “Creating a family planning niche: Examining Sweden's position in international family planning in the post war period”, paper presentation, European Association for the History of Medicine and Health, Universitas Medicinae Et Pharmaciae Carolus Davila, Bucharest, Romania, August 30- September 2, 2017.
• “Planning the postcolonial population: Scandinavian aid administrations, family planning and women's rights in the developing countries”, roundtable, 29th Congress of Nordic Historians, Aalborg Congress and Culture Centre, Aalborg, Denmark, August 15-18, 2017.
WORKSHOPS AND CONFERENCES ORGANIZED
• Research ethics committees: Origins, development and beyond, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, May 28–29, 2019, co-organized with Helena Tinnerholm Ljungberg and Francis Lee. Read more
• Vaccines: Values, present and past. An international workshop at Uppsala University, Sweden, November 23–24, 2017, co-organized with Isabelle Dussauge. Read more
• Evidence-based medicine, methodology and boundary work, Uppsala University, 24 October, 2016, co-organized with Solveig Jülich and Francis Lee. Read more (in Swedish).