Geography Geographies of Abortion
Sydney Calkin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0249


Geographical scholarship on abortion is a relatively new and growing field, although abortion is a well-studied topic. Abortion means the termination of a pregnancy; it is a very common procedure that people obtain when they have an unwanted pregnancy, medical complications from pregnancy, or a pregnancy with serious abnormalities. Geographical study of the topic places emphasis on the spatiality of abortion and the mobility that is often required to access abortion. Geographers of abortion understand the topic’s spatiality in different ways: their scholarship explores the geographical distribution of abortion healthcare, international and domestic travel routes that abortion-seekers must use to access distant facilities, activist networks, and the spatiality of abortion healthcare facilities themselves. The most developed area of geographical scholarship on abortion deals with abortion travel across borders, when abortion-seekers move between different places to obtain safe abortion, usually crossing the boundaries of different legal jurisdictions. As abortion technology transforms access, geographers are also accounting for new abortion methods and activist alliances which change the relationship between space, place, and abortion. Geographers of abortion are increasingly interested in dimensions of abortion spatiality and mobility that intersect with other disciplines or subdisciplines: cultural, legal, technological, and political analyses of abortion geography are on the rise. Like all writing on abortion and reproduction, this field has also been influenced by critiques from reproductive justice scholarship, which calls for greater attention to intersecting inequalities around race, class, gender identity, and disability in abortion care. While acknowledging that abortion is an emotive and contested topic, the scholarship on the geography of abortion does not pretend to adopt a neutral position on the topic. Almost without exception, geographical analyses of abortion take an explicitly feminist position in favor of access to affordable, safe, legal, and local abortion. As the field of feminist geography diversifies its areas of interest—beyond the category of ‘women’ and their experiences—it maintains an overt commitment to transnational collective action and social justice. In this tradition, geographical scholarship on abortion examines the spatiality of abortion in order to build the intellectual and political project of reproductive justice. This bibliography is limited to work published in English and, as such, may overrepresent work on English-speaking places.

General Overviews

General overviews of the topic are best represented in edited volumes. There is no single monograph that gives a comprehensive account of abortion geography. The wide geographical scope of the topic means that edited volumes with contributors from across the world provide the clearest starting point for students and researchers. Bloomer, et al. 2018 provides a short overview of abortion in global political context, and is the best introduction for students currently available. Edited volumes, like Sethna and Davis 2019; Stettner, et al. 2017; Zordo, et al. 2016; and McQuarrie, et al. 2018 explore the topic of abortion travel with many different geographical examples, although these volumes largely concentrate on North America, Europe, and Australasia. These volumes, like Browne and Calkin 2020 on Ireland, are interdisciplinary, so they present a spatial account of abortion from a variety of disciplinary perspectives beyond geography. These often include historical, sociological, and legal perspectives. Cohen and Joffe 2020 provides a detailed view of the many factors shaping abortion travel, drawing on extensive interviews with activists and doctors. The special section Speier, et al. 2020 offers a range of geographical perspectives on reproductive activities that depend on mobility or immobility.

  • Bloomer, Fiona, Claire Pierson, and Sylvia Estrada-Claudio. Reimagining Global Abortion Politics: A Social Justice Perspective. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv80cc2f

    An ideal starting point for students on the topic, this book is short and accessible. It covers contemporary debates with international case studies, beyond European and North American examples, and takes an explicit social justice approach. It includes sections on decriminalization, biomedicalization, international law, and activism.

  • Browne, Kath, and Sydney Calkin. After Repeal: Rethinking Abortion Politics. London: Zed Books, 2020.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350218284

    An edited volume about Ireland’s 2018 referendum, this is an interdisciplinary book that contains many chapters by geographers. Notable chapters on abortion geography examine the referendum campaign in urban space, abortion travel, moral geographies of anti-choice Ireland, and legal geographies of fetal life.

  • Cohen, David S., and Carole Joffe. Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in America. Oakland: University of California Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520973725

    This book provides a comprehensive view of abortion travel in the United States, including information about travel obstacles, routes, activism, regulations, medical practices, and protests that impact people who seek abortion in the United States.

  • McQuarrie, Colleen, Fiona K. Bloomer, Claire Pierson, and Shannon Stettner, eds. Crossing Troubled Waters: Abortion in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown, P. E. I.: Island Studies Press, 2018.

    This edited volume draws parallels between abortion travel abroad from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (mostly to England), and abortion travel within Canada where abortion access varies widely by province. Although interdisciplinary, its strongest contribution is to the legal geography of abortion: chapters like Joanna Erdman’s show how state-level restrictions can make abortion unavailable for all but the wealthiest, in a country where abortion has been decriminalized.

  • Sethna, Christabelle, and Gayle Davis, eds. Abortion across Borders: Transnational Travel and Access to Abortion Services. Baltimore: JHU Press, 2019.

    An edited volume with chapters covering abortion travel—in historical and contemporary accounts—from Europe, North America, and Australia. The chapters deal with places where abortion is illegal, but they also show how uneven implementation of abortion laws has led to abortion travel away from countries where access is possible in theory but not in practice.

  • Speier, Amy, Kristin Lozanski, and Sue Frohlick. Special Section: Reproductive Mobilities. Mobilities 15.2 (2020): 107–119.

    DOI: 10.1080/17450101.2020.1726644

    A special section of the journal Mobilities concentrating on reproductive mobility, including several contributions that advance theoretical discussions about (im)mobility in reproduction and reproductive ‘tourism.’ The section usefully builds on reproductive justice conversations, conceptualizing abortion, birth, gestational surrogacy, and other reproductive activities alongside each other.

  • Stettner, Shannon, Katrina Ackerman, Kristin Burnett, and Travis Hay, eds. Transcending Borders: Abortion in the Past and Present. Springer: New York 2017.

    An edited volume with historical and contemporary accounts of abortion, this book is unique in its geographical range: it contains chapters on Japan, Zanzibar, Bolivia, and Cameroon, among others that are underrepresented in geographical scholarship on abortion. This volume is interdisciplinary and many chapters are not explicitly geographical in their outlook, but its emphasis on borders (cultural, temporal, geographical, etc.) make many chapters relevant for a study of abortion geography.

  • Zordo, Silvia De, Joanna Mishtal, and Lorena Anton, eds. A Fragmented Landscape: Abortion Governance and Protest Logics in Europe. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016.

    This edited volume is interdisciplinary, with chapters on many European countries. It makes an important contribution to the abortion geography scholarship because many chapters give a detailed examination of policymaking and implementation, showing how failures in both force people to travel across borders to jurisdictions where laws, medical systems, or social norms are more hospitable to abortion.

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