Accepted paper:

Quietly 'beating the system': the logics of protest and resistance under the Polish abortion ban


Joanna Mishtal (University of Central Florida)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines Polish women’s use of the abortion underground as a form of protest logics developed in response to reproductive rights restrictions in Poland. It draws on research in 4 medical clinics in Gdańsk, Poland and an analysis of online discussion groups about abortion services.

Paper long abstract:

After the fall of communism in 1989 Poland implemented severe restrictions on family planning, due primarily to the renewed power of the Catholic Church. This 'return of God' and 'masculinization' of the political sphere was marked by new effort to control women's reproduction and sexuality, and nationalist resurgence of pronatalist discourses. The postsocialist Church-state morality politics resulted in a near-total ban on abortion, as well as the implementation of the conscientious objection law, and the elimination of health insurance coverage for contraceptives. The abortion ban fueled the development of a clandestine abortion underground. In this paper, I examine the extent to which women's strategies to 'beat the system' by circumventing the ban on abortion can be considered a form of protest logics developed in response to reproductive rights restrictions in Poland after 1989—a form of civic resistance that bypasses both structural constraints of the abortion ban policy and simultaneously challenges the hegemonic meta narrative of Polish motherhood as a patriotic imperative. In my analysis, I draw on research conducted in 2007 in four medical clinics in Poland, in Gdańsk and the Tricity area, with women patients who came to the clinics for general care. I conducted semistructured interviews with 55 women ages 18-40 on site at the clinics in private rooms about clandestine abortion services. I also draw on an analysis of Polish online discussion groups and forums, which I have followed in 2013, in particular discussion vignettes which are about abortion knowledge, access, and services.

panel P22
Health and wellbeing in post-war Europe: the contentious issue of abortion