September 2001

Providers, pills and power: The US mifepristone abortion trials and caregivers' interpretation of clinical power dynamics

Simonds W, Ellertson C, Winikoff B, Springer K. Providers, pills and power: The US mifepristone abortion trials and caregivers' interpretation of clinical power dynamics. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine. September 2001; 5(2) (Spring):207-231

In this article, we examine retrospective accounts of health care workers who participated in the Population Council’s clinical trials of mifepristone (RU-486) between October 1994 and September 1995. We conducted focus group interviews with 78 health care providers at 17 sites around the USA, after the clinical trials of mifepristone (RU-486) were completed. We discuss providers’ reflections upon power dynamics between them and their clients during the clinical trials, as well as the implications of these changes on the future provision of non-surgical abortion. Caregivers tend to see mifepristone users as more ‘empowered’ than women having surgical abortions, and see themselves as losing power over their clients’ abortion experiences. They offer nuanced and ambivalent assessments of the role of empowerment in their clients’ motivations and experiences as mifepristone users. They tend to view the method as responsible for generating more egalitarian clinical interactions (and to endorse it as such), but the variation present in their evaluations demonstrates most clearly the power of caregivers’ interpretative work in shaping clinical interactions. In assessing their experiences with mifepristone, caregivers demonstrate their interpretative work ‘on’ clients, which is enmeshed with their sense of who they are as medical workers.

Tagged with Abortion, United States