Reproductive choice in Romania: Cultural models of abortion and contraception

Date of Completion

January 2003


Anthropology, Cultural




Although modern contraceptives are readily available and affordable, the majority of Romanian women choose to use traditional methods of birth control and, when they inevitably fail, abortion to limit family size. This research explores the question of why. This research tested the primary hypothesis that variation in Romanian women's cultural models of reproduction and sexuality will reflect differences in contracepting behavior. This hypothesis was assessed with data collected from participant observation, informal and unstructured interviewing, 323 semi-structured interviews with 47 informants and 365 structured interviews. The data were then analyzed for emergent themes in the domain of reproduction and sexuality and the patterning of those themes among the individuals in the sample. The results of this research indicate there is one underlying model of reproduction and sexuality, but that within that model there is great variation. This variation, however, does not reflect contraceptive use. The components of Romanian women's models in this domain reflect women's views on appropriate gender roles, religious ideals, and ways to maintain the ideal family. Variation in the cultural model reflects the degree to which women view sexuality, abortion and contraception along the axis of pragmatic versus moralistic attitudes. Those holding a more pragmatic model view sex and sexuality more openly and regard both contraception and abortion as acceptable means of limiting fertility. Those who hold a more moralistic model find sex and sexuality shameful and regard both contraception and abortion as unacceptable. Regardless of which model a woman holds, she is just as likely to either use or not use modern contraceptives. Ideas of what would bring shame to one's family, how to appear ‘normal,’ maneuvering through economically desperate times, and legacies of Romania's socialist political system motivate reproductive decision making. The decisions that women make about the use or non-use of modern contraceptives are influenced by the desire to avoid shame, considerations about maintaining normalcy and the imperative to circumvent desperation. ^