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Wednesday 12 April 2023 11.00 - 13.00
F-2 SEX02 Catholicism, Gender and Anti-abortion Activism in Europe (1970s-Present)
B23
Networks: Health and Environment , Sexuality , Women and Gender Chairs: Martina Avanza, Azzurra Tafuro
Organizer: Agata Ignaciuk Discussant: Azzurra Tafuro
Moderators: -
Anne-Sophie Crosetti : Feminism and “Pro-life” Groups in Belgium and France: from Hatred to (Strategic) Love? (1970-Present)
In this presentation, I will focus on a topic extensively used by the two most visible “pro-life” groups in France and in Belgium today: feminism. While it seems contradictory to link feminism and anti-abortion movements, the French “La Marche pour la Vie” and its Belgian counterparts currently use “feminism” as ... (Show more)
In this presentation, I will focus on a topic extensively used by the two most visible “pro-life” groups in France and in Belgium today: feminism. While it seems contradictory to link feminism and anti-abortion movements, the French “La Marche pour la Vie” and its Belgian counterparts currently use “feminism” as one of the main arguments to combat abortion.
In a socio-historical perspective, I would like to question the relation between “pro-life” movements and feminism in these two countries, from their creation in the 1970s onwards. At the time of the foundation of these groups, France and Belgium saw a transformation of sexual and reproductive norms, through the advent of contraception. Abortion became debated as well, as “responsible parenthood” got normalized. The two countries experienced a different chronology on the matter: France first decriminalized abortion in 1975 while Belgium saw intense debates until 1990 when abortion was partially decriminalized.
In these contexts, “pro-life” groups of both countries developed to defend their views on family and sexuality, highlighting that the “sex revolution” was not a peaceful process. Yet, they did not do it in the name of women’s rights. Moreover, they did not share the importance of a feminist combat, seeing feminists as gender dissident destructing the family. Facing the development of the second wave of feminism, they instead produced discourses against feminist groups and in the line of the Catholic Church they sometimes very clearly identified with.
Based on interviews conducted with “pro-life” activists and on archives of the two groups, I will show that feminism-related topics in these groups highlights a general attitude towards religion. Catholicism and Catholic moral are indeed historically associated with “pro-life” movements and at the core of their argumentation. How to explain the evolution, from a rejection of feminism to the use of this identity as an argumentation to combat abortion? How do the “pro-life” groups in France and Belgium see their historical “ancestors’” mode of action and argumentation? What does it say of the relation towards Catholicism, in countries that shape the Church-State relationship very differently? (Show less)

Wannes Dupont : Turning the Tide: Vatican Opposition to Birth Control in India (1950-1977)
Much research has recently been done on the way in which the Roman Catholic Church emerged as a global force against liberal, libertarian and constructionist conceptions of gender and sexuality since the early 1990s. In fact, this globalisation stretches back to the late 1940s, when the Church tried to curb ... (Show more)
Much research has recently been done on the way in which the Roman Catholic Church emerged as a global force against liberal, libertarian and constructionist conceptions of gender and sexuality since the early 1990s. In fact, this globalisation stretches back to the late 1940s, when the Church tried to curb the world’s very first national family planning programme proposed by the newly independent nation of India under Jawaharlal Nehru. This paper is the first to examine the ways in which the Vatican and the Indian Church sought in vain to prevent this programme from creating a blueprint for other countries to follow. We argue that this failure is a major reason - perhaps the major reason - for why, by 1968, the encyclical Humanae Vitae affirmed the Catholic Church’s ban on ‘unnatural’ forms of birth control, in spite of the fact that most Catholics in the West opposed this ban and later ignored it. When thousands of poor Indians were forcibly sterilised by the state during India’s ‘Emergency’-period from 1975-1977, Catholic hardliners felt, as many still do, that the encyclical had been prescient.

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Agata Ignaciuk, Ángela Segura-Arenas : Catholicism and Anti-abortion Activism in the Spanish 1980s
Abortion was partially decriminalised in Spain in 1985, a decade after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco marked the beggining of the democratic transition. The Spanish Catholic Church ideologically supported the Franco regime, a collaboration historiographically labeled as “national Catholicism” that resulted in codifying sins into crimes. The 1941 ... (Show more)
Abortion was partially decriminalised in Spain in 1985, a decade after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco marked the beggining of the democratic transition. The Spanish Catholic Church ideologically supported the Franco regime, a collaboration historiographically labeled as “national Catholicism” that resulted in codifying sins into crimes. The 1941 ban on contraception and abortion satisfied pronatalist and moral aspirations of the State-Church alliance. However, from the 1950s onward, and especially during the final decades of the dictatorship and the democratic transition, the Catholic hierarchy began to discursively distance itself from the State, a withdrawal from active engagement in politics that continued through the 1980s. The institutional Church was therefore an observer, rather than an actor, in the abortion law reform initiated in 1983 and concluded in 1988. Instead, the emerging anti-abortion organisations, such as Acción Familiar, played an important role in deleying and obstaculising the implementation of legal abortion services. The aim of this paper is to map the Spanish anti-abortion activism in the 1980s, a social movement whose local historiography is virtually inexisting, and examine its argumentative and institutional links to the Catholic hierarchy. Through sociological and institutional reports and media representations, as well as Catholic sex education materials, we sketch the continuities around the gendered framings of abortion and the fetus, and enquire into transnational travel of these framings as they landed and developed in Spain of the 1980s. (Show less)

Laura Kelly : Anti-abortion Activism in the Republic of Ireland, c.1980s-1990s: Gender, Emotions and Transnational Influences
Abortion is evidently one of the most bitterly contested social and ethical issues of the twentieth and twenty-first century. As Rickie Solinger has argued, ‘the subject of abortion occupies the dedicated space in public discourse for expressions of fear, outrage and hatred; for struggles over ideology and justice’. While there ... (Show more)
Abortion is evidently one of the most bitterly contested social and ethical issues of the twentieth and twenty-first century. As Rickie Solinger has argued, ‘the subject of abortion occupies the dedicated space in public discourse for expressions of fear, outrage and hatred; for struggles over ideology and justice’. While there is a significant body of research on the history of pro-choice activism in the Republic of Ireland, particularly in the wake of the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment in 2018, there has been limited research on the anti-abortion movement.
The abortion issue came to the fore in Ireland following the legalisation of contraception in 1979. Following the legalisation of contraception, a number of anti-abortion groups such as the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (PLAC) and SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Child) mobilised in order to campaign for a pro-life amendment to the Irish constitution. These groups wanted to ensure that abortion could never be legalised in Ireland, either by parliament as in Britain in 1967, the courts, as in the case of Roe V Wade in the US in 1973, or by a directive from the European Union, which Ireland had joined in 1973. Anti-abortion activists often cited Britain as an example of what they did not want to see happen in Ireland. A number of groups, such as the Woman’s Right to Choose Group and the Anti-Amendment Campaign campaigned against this amendment but were ultimately defeated in the referendum which passed in 1983.
Drawing primarily on oral history interviews with activists, as well as the publications of anti-abortion groups, this paper will shed light on anti-abortion campaigns in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s. It explores the motivations, experiences and strategies of men and women involved in anti-abortion activism in the period in order to illuminate the gender dynamics and the importance of emotion as a mobilising and strategic force within the movement. Moreover, through an examination of strategies such as school education programmes, crisis pregnancy centres, abortion regret activism, and visual propaganda, the paper seeks to examine how Irish activism has been influenced and inspired by the American anti-abortion movement. However, as the paper will illustrate, Irish anti-abortion activism developed its own particular character which was heavily influenced by the Catholic faith. (Show less)

Sylwia Kuzma-Markowska : “The Right to Life” Behind the Iron Curtain: the Polish Anti-Abortion Movement, the Catholic Church, and the Communist State in the 1970s and 1980s
This paper examines the forms of functioning and of activism of anti-abortion movement in communist Poland, focusing chiefly on the relations between the communist state as a non-democratic regime and the social movement that battled the abortion legislation and the abortion procedure that was at that time widely practiced by ... (Show more)
This paper examines the forms of functioning and of activism of anti-abortion movement in communist Poland, focusing chiefly on the relations between the communist state as a non-democratic regime and the social movement that battled the abortion legislation and the abortion procedure that was at that time widely practiced by women. Relying mainly on archival documents produced by the communist state and the anti-abortion organizations, I argue that although officially and formally the communist state restricted the activities of the anti-abortion movement by constraining its organizing efforts, the range of activist possibilities that the movement could still rely on thanks to the support of the Catholic Church built a foundation for its coalescence and legislative success in the post-communist times. (Show less)

Lucas Ramos : Catholics in the Age of Sexual Revolution: Homosexuality, Marriage, and Welfare in Postwar Italy (1948-1965)
This paper explores how lay sexology centers in the postwar Republic of Italy incorporated Catholic doctrine as a way to organize legal and medical knowledge on homosexuality. Existing literature often assumes that Italian Church exponents remained silent on topics that concerned sexuality “against nature.” Unlike its Anglo-American counterparts, Italian gay ... (Show more)
This paper explores how lay sexology centers in the postwar Republic of Italy incorporated Catholic doctrine as a way to organize legal and medical knowledge on homosexuality. Existing literature often assumes that Italian Church exponents remained silent on topics that concerned sexuality “against nature.” Unlike its Anglo-American counterparts, Italian gay and lesbian history further shows that no homophile movement emerged to collectively organize for sexual rights. Yet these understudied centers explicitly defined “deviant” sexuality within their efforts to regulate marriage and reproduction in support of the Roman Catholic Church, the latter of which offered little guidance on declining fertility, the rise in civil (as opposed to canonical) marriages, or revolutionary demands for divorce law. Through the periodicals and reports of the Bolognese and Roman centers of sexology, this paper reveals how Canon law professors, clinicians, and criminologists joined forces to confer political authority on medical experts by cultivating transnational interest in holistic psychosomatic medicine. In so doing, psychosomatic medicine offered a spiritual path in helping the Vatican “re-Christianize” Europe. By connecting homosexuality to psychic impotence, these conferences used homosexuality as a way to rethink the potential loopholes in Civil and Canon law during an age of sexual revolution, as the Roman Curia court received petitions from homosexuals who sought annulments from heterosexual marriages. Because these centers depended on the Ministry of Health for financial support and held connections to both the Catholic Action and Christian Democracy (Italy’s dominant postwar party), this paper argues that the “natural law” of Church doctrine played an instrumental role in shaping the State’s language of sexual “deviancy.” In their attempts to reinforce doctrine, the influential figures of this study unintentionally provided State-Church recognition of homosexuality, a definition that would be used in the future as a means for bringing the sexual revolution into Italy. (Show less)



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