Abortion counselling controversies and the precarious role of social work: Research and reflections from Aotearoa New Zealand

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Journal Article
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Meadows, Letitia

INTRODUCTION: This article presents debates and controversies about counselling within abortion provision in Aotearoa New Zealand. Formal and informal counselling networks are described, where the role of social workers as providers of counselling services is precarious. Insights consider how service users may be more holistically supported when accessing abortion care. METHODS: Drawing on findings from a broader qualitative research project involving 52 participant interviews, formal and informal observation of practices, and analysis of service documentation, the concept of boundary objects by Star and Griesemer (1989) is taken up to account for diverse abortion counselling practices that occur in multiple but connected social worlds. Revisiting these findings in the context of current abortion legislation and developments, a Reproductive Justice (RJ) lens is used to inform the implications for service users and social work practice. FINDINGS: Past and present efforts within legislation, policy, and practice guidelines to standardise abortion counselling have not prevented different versions of counselling from being enacted by social workers, counsellors, nurses, medical practitioners, staff of community agencies, and crisis pregnancy services. This has resulted in the practice and the term counselling being contested. Participant accounts and observations revealed that multiple disciplines offer counselling practices while social work remains poorly integrated into service provision. CONCLUSION: This article employs the concept of boundary objects to account for how variations of counselling have been enacted and disputed. The addition of a reproductive justice (RJ) lens with its attention to social justice is used to appreciate recent advances in access to abortion services alongside arguing for enriched care practices and the value of social work in supporting the integrated well-being and agency of service users.

Meadows L (2023). Abortion counselling controversies and the precarious role of social work: Research and reflections from Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work Review. 35(4). 73-86.
abortion counselling, social work, controversy, boundary object
Ngā upoko tukutuku/Māori subject headings
ANZSRC fields of research
44 - Human society::4409 - Social work::440902 - Counselling, wellbeing and community services
44 - Human society::4409 - Social work::440901 - Clinical social work practice
42 - Health sciences::4203 - Health services and systems::420307 - Health counselling
44 - Human society::4405 - Gender studies::440509 - Women's studies (incl. girls' studies)
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