Journal of Biosocial Science

Research Article



a1 Guttmacher Institute, New York, USA


Abortion is illegal in Uganda except to save the life of the woman. Nevertheless, the practice is quite common: about 300,000 induced abortions occur annually among Ugandan women aged 15–49 (Singh et al., 2005) and a large proportion of these women require treatment for post-abortion complications. In the male-dominant culture of Uganda, where men control most of the financial resources, men play a critical part in determining whether women receive a safe abortion, or appropriate treatment if they experience abortion complications. This study examines men's roles in determining women's access to a safer abortion and post-abortion care. It draws on in-depth interviews carried out in 2003 with 61 women aged 18–60 and 21 men aged 20–50 from Kampala and Mbarara, Uganda. Respondents' descriptions of men's involvement in women's abortion care agreed that men's stated attitudes about abortion often prevented women from involving them in either the abortion or post-abortion care. Most men believe that if a woman is having an abortion, it must be because she is pregnant with another man's child, although this does not correspond with women's reasons for having an abortion – a critical disjuncture revealed by the data between men's perceptions of, and women's realities regarding, reasons for seeking an abortion. If the woman does experience post-abortion complications, the prevailing attitude among men in the sample was that they cannot support a woman in such a situation seeking care because if it had been his child, she would not have had a covert abortion. Since money is critical to accessing appropriate care, without men's support, women seeking an abortion may not be able to access safer abortion options and if they experience complications, they may delay care-seeking or may not obtain care at all. Barriers to involving men in abortion decision-making endanger women's health and possibly their lives.

(Online publication September 17 2010)


† Deceased: last position was as lecturer at the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.