Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Abortion, Criminalization, Violence, Embodiment, Human Rights, Social Work

Major Advisor

Kathryn R. Libal, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

S. Megan Berthold, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Nancy A. Naples, Ph.D.

Field of Study

Social Work


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This research examines how women in Chile embody being criminalized for abortion in the context of inequality. Using a critical phenomenological research design, an element of this research focused on structural, cultural, and direct forms of violence against women. The study is anchored in the narratives of poor, indigenous, and immigrant women who have a history of terminating a pregnancy under illegal conditions. Participants revealed that the construction of laws and policies regulate and control women’s reproductive lives and construct them as criminals; that cultural systems of inequality legitimize and sustain harmful attitudes and practices; and that structural and cultural violence manifest as concrete expressions of discrimination and other forms of violence against women. The in-depth interviews with women who have a history of terminating a pregnancy revealed how illegality is inscribed upon a woman’s body and embodied reality, linking broader constructs of violence to lived experience. Women’s narratives uncovered how their voice and experience with abortion are rendered invisible within clandestine spaces of illegality and only made visible as a result of health or legal consequences. Despite barriers negotiating and embodying inequality within a highly criminalized environment women revealed resistance to dominant structures, laws, and cultural discourse, illustrating individual and collective forms of agency. The role of social work is vital on both policy and practice levels. This research calls on social workers to challenge a criminal justice paradigm as a response to social issues; understand the conditions that affect women’s reproductive health, such as poverty and discrimination; and work toward the implementation of a social justice and human rights-based approach to reproductive health and wellbeing.