Unit Seven: Religion and Unintended Pregnancy

The readings for Unit Seven focus on the influence that faith-based factors have on women’s agency in reproduction and the impact that relativism has on appropriately understanding local contexts and principles of bioethics. By pairing these articles together, I was able to gain more insight on the complex interactions that exist between the personal ideas, life experiences, and moral systems that are often used to inform major decisions associated with pregnancy. The ethical implications and practical application of reproductive technology often defy dichotomous thoughts related to family planning since there are broad power structures that dictate the position women have in society. It’s quite unproductive to adhere to rigid binary distinctions that surround intentionality since there are many different situations that can lead to conception, even despite the control of human measures. Rather, it’s important to acknowledge that individual choices in reproductive health result from agentive capacities that consider the process of decision making through external factors that enable women to operate in their best interest given the surrounding environment.   

The ethnography “Blessing Unplanned Pregnancy: Religion and the Discourse of Women’s Agency in Public Health” distinguishes between religion and spirituality to highlight the role that they may offer in understanding some of the choices that a group of low-income African American women living in a shelter make when navigating pregnancy. The authors argue that public health studies fail to properly address the degree to which religion and spirituality influence these decision-making processes since most choices for childbearing are rooted in strong beliefs connected to divinity. Participant observation and interviews relay that most women along the motherhood journey see their pregnancy as a blessing or attribute it to being a positive consequence that forces them to reexamine their lives, start over, and make improvements to overcome adversity (p. 36). The choice to have a child can be viewed as a path towards correcting past wrongs and in the context of agency with unplanned pregnancies, I believe that this is a common framework of thinking that’s generally present among communities since most guardians work hard to mitigate the amount of struggle faced with each new generation. Hope may motivate women to sustain growth and avoid making mistakes similar to those of the past as mothers, so the choice to carry an unexpected pregnancy to term can be seen as a future testimony. 

Growing up in a nondenominational church community, I’ve heard celebratory stories of triumph over tribulation that serve to praise God through unfortunate situations and encourage those facing similar trials while also building community to offer support through tough times. The distinction between spirituality and religion also resonated with me as someone who considers themself spiritual for very similar reasons, I believe that spirituality is an extension of religion that utilizes more introspection to deeply reflect on life experiences to connect them to a divine plan and purpose that’s destined by God. As mentioned in the article, the genuine concern about God through the relationship that matures over time makes prayer, church attendance, and reading of scripture more than just an empty practice of ritualistic traditions (p. 41). 

Realizing the magnitude of this connection can be used to explain the divine role that exists to influence the agency women have in making reproductive choices based on values developed through religious factors and spirituality. Given that unintended pregnancies are often described as random and unpredictable, I wonder to what extent may the advancement of reproductive technology play a role in strengthening this spiritual relationship since women are faced with options to stabilize their experience and control the course of their pregnancy? How are contradictions or tensions between religious views and worldly desires resolved when decisions about reproduction and child bearing differ from the lessons drawn from traditional religious texts? Why might analyzing social structures of power be beneficial to determine the added layers of complexity that come with reproductive agencies in spiritual contexts? 

My interpretation of the ideas presented in “Moral Experience and Ethical Reflection: Can Ethnography reconcile them? A quandary for the new Bioethics.” was that bioethics doesn’t need to apply universal rules or principles to human lived experiences. Bioethicist decision makers and policy implementers need to be diverse in thought and understanding to accommodate for the nuances of human lived experiences. Aspects of culture like religion have a significant impact on shaping the beliefs, value systems, and morals that dictate how people behave or respond to situations, like unintended pregnancy, so I can see why careful deliberation would be necessary to ensure that the needs of all people may be met and compliance with ethics associated with medicine and healthcare. The advancement of assisted reproductive technology creates a new set of issues and situations to settle, so unbiased methods need to be used to compare between different situations but how can language associated with morality refrain from subjectivity to establish neutral rules to provide fairness and justice for involved parties? 

These ideas are impossible to isolate from constructs like race, religion, class, and gender because the lessons learned from constant interactions within communities also contribute to the shaping of ethics in local contexts. How might bioethics maintain this expectation when values are so deeply engaged in personal experiences and don’t develop in an isolated vacuum? Knowing that bioethics needs to account for local moral experiences and a means of applying ethical deliberation (p. 73) reminds me of the need to have more ways to establish figurative seats at the bioethics table as discussed last class to amplify the voices of different identities when discussing the establishment and enactment of reproductive policies. Identity politics related to the practice of reproductive care should ensure that medicine is practiced to truly advocate for all human rights without infringing on any religious freedoms in the United States where these rights are protected. I support the solution for bioethics consultants to use ethnographic approaches to understand local practices by the terms of the people of interest without aiming to resolve tensions, but also wonder what is the point of going through the effort of detailing local contexts and clarifying issues without actually grappling with the results? The limitation or burden of the approach seems reasonable in theory but how does avoiding resolution relate practically especially in the case when tensions are serious threats and need to be resolved to improve conditions of healthcare settings? Who has the authority to come up with these solutions and how should they go about the establishment of favorable conditions using unbiased, productive methods?


  1. Hi Odudu! This is an amazing, in-depth post that summarizes the readings well. I think you did a particularly excellent job of posing thought-provoking questions along with your analysis. There are so many interesting questions in this post, but I’d like to address your question about “contradictions or tensions between religious views and worldly desires.”
    Your comparison between religious views and worldly desires is fascinating – almost as though religion is otherworldly and completely removed from preferences or yearnings. As someone whose personal beliefs greatly differ from my religion’s, I’m trying to figure out the answer to your question myself. I think ethnographers would benefit from straying from an approach based on religion in favor of an approach loosely guided by religion to ensure they pick up on these personal intricacies.

  2. Hello Odudu! Thank you for your comprehensive summary and thorough analysis of the two readings. I really appreciate the depth of your questions and I hope to provide some insight into them.

    In regards to “Moral Experience and Ethical Reflection: Can Ethnography reconcile them?” I had a similar caution in supporting ethnography as a solution for bioethics quandaries and wanted to voice some of my thoughts on “what is the point of going through the effort of detailing local contexts and clarifying issues without actually grappling with the results?” To begin with, I appreciate that while Kleinman may not resolve this shortcoming with using ethnography towards bioethics, he does fully acknowledge that ethnography may inherently not be able to provide the exact solution towards bioethics dilemmas. This discussion, though not resolved, makes me trust Kleinman’s voice, as he openly exposes the holes in his argument.

    I think on one hand, the adjunctive purpose of ethnography within bioethics is, as you began to mention, like Bhattacharya’s Hindu bioethics, in that, although her interpretation is only a beginning attempt at Hindu bioethics, it makes a “me too” jump into the realm of bioethics to claim an area of it. Thus, ethnography, as it serves to depict the moral experiences of different individuals provides a “me too” moment for each case, to validate the struggles of each person.

    On the larger, more realistic, and practical sense, I don’t have a clear sense of the purpose of ethnography not only because it’s a difficult solution to find, but also because I don’t have experience in the formation of policies within healthcare settings. Nevertheless, I believe or at least hope that healthcare administration has enough flexibility to accommodate and prioritize the wishes of the patient and their family so that ethnography has a legitimate role in at least providing precedence for new cases.

  3. Hi Odudu! I really appreciate that you shared your thoughts as someone who grew up in a nondenominational church community. As an atheist, this gave me a fresh perspective on spirituality and religion.

    I’d like to discuss your question: “How are contradictions or tensions between religious views and worldly desires resolved when decisions about reproduction and childbearing differ from the lessons drawn from traditional religious texts?” I think one of the reasons many religions are against assistive reproductive technologies is because they are, in a way, disillusioning people. What was before a ‘blessing’ and a mystery can now be explained and manipulated by science. This may be threatening to some religions and be viewed as an act of ‘playing God’. Of course, there are cases where, as we have seen before, women could fulfill their religious duties by using assistive reproductive technologies to have children. But more often than not, I think these technologies raise tension and arguments between scientists and religious leaders.

    I agree with you that there needs to be more seats at the bioethics table. I think religions like Hinduism will especially be beneficial in bringing in new, more flexible, and more forgiving viewpoints. When tackling bioethical problems, I like to look at the Hindu idea of dharma, different people have different dharma (duty) according to their caste, age, and gender, and one person’s solution to a problem may be different from another person’s depending on their situation. Bioethical problems, then, should perhaps be judged on a case-by-case basis instead of following a universal standard that cannot offer the best solution all the time. I also remembered the Hindu teaching of detachment from worldly desires and conflicts. Maybe this is why Hinduism is more flexible and forgiving?

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