Medicalization and Abortion: Evaluating Three Types of Service Providers in China

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


The domain of sexual and reproductive health has long been a target of medicalization, but the process and its extent vary diversely across socio-political and economic contexts. This study aims to illustrate the roles of structural and institutional factors in shaping the process of medicalization of a common yet controversial reproductive practice - abortion. Focusing on China, where safe and legal abortion is widely available, this study examines the variations in the medicalization of abortion within different institutional settings. Based on a set of qualitative data collected through ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews conducted in two cities in China between 2013 and 2016, this study evaluates abortion services offered in public hospitals, for-profit private hospitals, and a community clinic operated by a non-governmental organization. The findings show that the extent of medicalization varied among different medical facilities in which their institutional dynamics were structured corresponding to the broader sociocultural and economic circumstances. It is observed that in public hospitals and the NGO clinic, abortion was medicalized mainly for the purposes of guaranteeing safety, reducing pain, and facilitating recovery, whilst in private hospitals, abortion was medicalized not only for the above purposes but also for generating profit, which was achieved by using advanced medical technologies alleged to be imported from the Global North, and delivering excessive or unnecessary medical treatments. Based on the empirical evidence, this paper argues that the process of medicalization is shaping and shaped by different institutional settings that are configured by structural factors such as the medical system and healthcare market. Economic incentives and competition in the health care market have bought about the convergence of medicalization and commodification of abortion services, which impose potential risks to the well-being of women, especially for those who are young, less educated, and having limited medical knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2021
EventIV ISA Forum of Sociology: Challenges of the 21 Century : Democracy, Environment, Inequalities, Intersectionality - Virtual, Porto Alegre, Brazil
Duration: 23 Feb 202128 Feb 2021


ConferenceIV ISA Forum of Sociology
CityPorto Alegre
Internet address


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