The ultrasound scene in abortion care: practices and meanings in a public maternity hospital in Salvador, Bahia State, Brazil

Mariana Pitta Lima, Cecilia Anne McCallum, Greice Menezes

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2 Citations (Scopus)


This article aims to analyze the practices and meanings involved in obstetric ultrasound (USG) in women undergoing abortion at public maternity hospital in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. This is a qualitative ethnographic study that included three months of participant observation in the interactions between these women and medical and non-medical staff in the USG room of a public maternity hospital. USG has a central place in women’s abortion itinerary, and its practice is incorporated into the institution’s routine and the definition of approaches to abortion care at the maternity hospital studied here. In this context, distinct categories of “women with abortion” are produced and mobilized according to the interpretation of the USG images. The way the health condition and moral status of a woman with suspected abortion are defined depends on the presence or absence of a live fetus in her uterus, in addition to the gestational age at which the attempted or completed abortion occurred. We conclude that when the USG evidence indicates that there was (probably) an abortion in the initial stages of a pregnancy, the health professionals themselves help the women by disconnecting the semiotic process that would result in assigning a sense of human nature to the embryo. The later a pregnancy is terminated, the more likely the process of defining the images will sustain the idea that there was a person there. The hegemonic morals on abortion and its criminalization in Brazil modulate the symbolic constructions and practices involved in the USG test in women experiencing abortion.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00035618
Number of pages12
JournalCadernos de Saude Publica
Issue numberSupplement 1
Early online date10 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Abortion
  • Ultrasonography
  • Maternity Hospitals
  • Gender and Health


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