The Role of Abortions as a Contraceptive Method in a 1950s-1970s Nordic Context: Finnish Perspectives

Miina Keski-Petäjä, University of Helsinki
Matleena Frisk, University of Helsinki

The paper examines the role of abortion as a contraceptive method and as a means to control childbearing in a Nordic context from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. The time period covers a thorough societal change concerning sexual and reproductive policies: starting from a society where knowledge and availability of reliable contraceptives was inadequate, and resulting in a society where individuals were mostly capable of controlling their reproduction. In the Nordic welfare context, public debates and decision making have been characterized by the aim to rationally minimize health risks, and the public health discourse and the expert knowledge have had a dominant role. These rational approaches also furthered the 1960s and 1970s liberalization of attitudes and policies concerning sexuality, reproduction and gender equality. The paper addresses the interactions of the individual and the state in the context of an emerging Nordic welfare state from the perspective of reproduction. By combining various data sources, we examine the importance and relations of different methods used in controlling childbearing. Our focus is particularly on the widening access to both contraceptives and legal abortions in the 1970s. In Finland, abortion on social grounds was legalized in 1970 whereas data suggest that reliable and systematic use of contraceptives was adopted only thereafter during the 1970s. The aim to rationally control childbearing was achieved first by the right to legal abortion and only subsequently by reliable birth control. The paper questions the conception of abortion as a method of birth control related merely to the reproductive choices in the eastern European state socialist countries by asking did the right to abort pave the way for controlling one’s own life course in the Nordic countries and thereby strengthen a need for reliable, regular and systematic contraceptive use.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 194. Gendered Health and Reproductive Issues