Academic journal article Genders

Manufacturing Hysteria: The Import of U.S. Abortion Rhetorics to Poland

Academic journal article Genders

Manufacturing Hysteria: The Import of U.S. Abortion Rhetorics to Poland

Article excerpt

[1] When I first heard about the Post Abortion Syndrome (also known as Post Abortion Stress Syndrome) as a strategy used by American anti-choicers, I did not give it much thought. There were by far greater issues to worry about in my own backyard. Poland, the Central European state where I live and work, has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. The law was introduced shortly after the democratic transformation in 1993 and remains in force to this day. Officially, there are only several hundred legal abortions performed yearly, although women's NGOs estimate that the actual number of terminations performed in Poland could be much higher. Nonetheless, bearing in mind the legal situation and the official statistics, the last thing the pro-life movement should worry about in Poland is the mental health of women who have terminated their pregnancies. Yet, I was in for a surprise. The mid 2000s witnessed a true abortion syndrome boom, with both popular media and scientific authorities exhibiting intense and mysterious interest in the topic. On Polish turf, my first encounter with pro-life discourse on the post abortion syndrome took place rather unexpectedly during a conference which I hoped would try to provide a non-ideologized vocabulary for talking about abortion. I soon learned I was mistaken.

[2] "Abortion--causes, effects, therapy." An international academic conference by this name took place in Warsaw on June 20, 2004. The goals as described by the conference committee in the information materials sent out to academic institutions sounded objective and reasonable: "The conference is organized by the Committee for Demographic Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Ombudsman for Children's Rights, and the Institute for Psychiatry and Neurology. The goal of the conference is to present the medical and psycho-social causes of abortion."

[3] Perhaps the Ombudsman for Children's Rights seemed a little suspicious. What could he have to say about terminating pregnancies? Still, the other organizers boasted of scientific credentials; maybe the Ombudsman would speak about the ever increasing numbers of teenage pregnancies in Poland? After all, according to official statistics from 2001, almost 15,000 minor girls became mothers that year. Furthermore, there were 349 live births to girls under fifteen (Report of the Federation for Women and Family Planning 2001). So yes, indeed, the Ombudsman for Children's Rights should intervene. As should the Public Prosecutor. After all, each one of those pregnancies resulted from a crime. The age of consent for sexual activity in Poland is fifteen years. I was intrigued and signed up.

[4] The opening of the conference quickly shattered any illusions I may have had. Pawel Jaros, the Ombudsman for Children's Rights, declared: "Human life is a constitutional value. The value of a legal entity protected by the constitution cannot be differentiated on the basis of stages of development." I quickly checked the ombudsman's bio in the conference materials--he had been a member of the Polish Parliament on behalf of the right-wing AWS Party, which had opposed the creation of the position of Ombudsman in the first place. Conference materials included leaflets published by the American National Right to Life Committee, the English version and a translated Polish version, as well as "abortion stories" by American women. These stories were clearly modeled after the religious conversion genre present in American literary tradition since the Puritans and secularized with success in the 20th century by various recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Interestingly, this genre relating sin (in this case, abortion) and redemption (contrition usually leading to membership in an anti-choice organization) in a highly stylized fashion is absent from Polish literary tradition. Not that Poles, as mostly Catholics, do not sin. They surely do, but usually they do not boast about it. …

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