Natalie Kimball is the author of An Open Secret: The History of Unwanted Pregnancy and Abortion in Modern Bolivia, out this year from Rutgers University Press.
An Open Secret argues that, despite stigma and continued legal prohibitions, practices and attitudes surrounding abortion have changed in urban Bolivia since the 1950s. Kimball shows how women have pushed for and enacted changes in policy and services relating to unwanted pregnancy and abortion in Bolivia.
In particular, they argue that since the 1980s, women have opened space for themselves to be able to terminate pregnancies with more options and more safety, even as abortion remains illegal. In order to tell this story, Kimball conducted over 100 interviews with women and maternal health practitioners in both La Paz and El Alto, and their stories offer a history not only of policy change, but of transformations in official and unofficial attitudes.
An Open Secret tells these stories while remaining attuned to the specific contexts of urban Bolivia, where women and men navigate overlapping medical systems not reducible to western science alone. Their book also centers women’s affective responses to pregnancy and the structures that factor into decisions about care. In this interview, we talk about oral history practices as well as the challenges of rights and choice base frameworks for maternal health activism in postcolonial contexts.
An Open Secret is essential reading for anyone interested in women’s health or the practice of oral history in Latin America.
Natalie Kimball is an Assistant Professor of History at the College of Staten Island, which forms part of the City University of New York.
Elena McGrath is an Assistant Professor of History at Union College in Schenectady, NY.
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