Fight with granny midwives over women’s health: the medicalisation of abortion in socialist Poland (1950s and 1960s) Cover Image

Walka z „babkami” o zdrowie kobiet: medykalizacja przerywania ciąży w Polsce w latach pięćdziesiątych i sześćdziesiątych XX wieku
Fight with granny midwives over women’s health: the medicalisation of abortion in socialist Poland (1950s and 1960s)

Author(s): Sylwia Kuźma-Markowska
Subject(s): Political history, Social history, Gender history, Recent History (1900 till today), Post-War period (1950 - 1989)
Published by: Instytut Historii im. Tadeusza Manteuffla Polskiej Akademii Nauk
Keywords: abortion in Poland;Polish People’s Republic (PRL); granny midwives; medicalisation; folk medicine; scientific medicine;

Summary/Abstract: In 1956 the communist state authorities liberalized the anti-abortion law that the Polish People’s Republic inherited from the interwar period. Using the rhetoric of women’s health and framing their decision as a safety measure, the legislators intended to curb the high number of clandestine abortion procedures performed outside the realm of socialist medicine. As I argue in my paper, in the official political and medical discourse abortion legislation passed in Poland in the 1950s constituted an element of the war against traditional medicine which was waged by the authorities of socialist Poland. One of the targets of this fight were “granny midwives”: traditional folk female healers who were helping peasant women in many aspects of their reproductive lives and who were customarily accused of performing high numbers of criminal abortions. Thus it was against these “granny midwives” that the socialist state had to fight over the life and health of Polish women. Presenting abortion as an intricate medical procedure whose success depended on the skills of a highly qualified and experienced personnel, socialist doctors and authorities did not only medicalise abortion, but also pathologised it, depicting the termination of a pregnancy as a disease requiring the care of a professional medical practitioner. What was also at stake at the fight against “granny midwives” was the shift from pre-modern, traditional healing practices to modern, scientific medicine that was regarded as a tenet of state socialism.

  • Issue Year: 2017
  • Issue No: 15
  • Page Range: 189-215
  • Page Count: 27
  • Language: Polish