Joanna MishtalMar 21, 2022
The Politics of Morality
The Church, the State, and Reproductive Rights in Postsocialist Poland
Ohio University Press 2015
In the fall of 2020, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal decreed that the country’s near-total ban on abortion was too liberal; henceforth, pregnancies could be terminated only in cases of rape, incest, or imminent threat to the mother’s life. The court’s decision triggered a nationwide Women’s Strike, whose social mobilization galvanized reproductive rights advocacy across Europe.
In the wake of the Polish mass protests, and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, now is a crucial moment to re-visit anthropologist Joanna Mishtal’s ground-breaking book The Politics of Morality: The Church, the State, and Reproductive Rights in Postsocialist Poland (Ohio University Press, 2015). Mishtal recast the decades since communism’s collapse as a time of joint Church-State war on reproductive rights, as well as feminism, which was painted as either a communist legacy or a foreign import. The Politics of Morality examines the contradiction between an emerging democracy on the one hand, and a declining tolerance for women’s rights and political and religious pluralism on the other. Surveillance, control, and abuse of power are persistent themes in this revealing ethnography, which has had an enormous scholarly impact in the study of gender and religion & politics in Eastern Europe, but carries powerful lessons far beyond its immediate field.
Piotr H. Kosicki is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of Catholics on the Barricades (Yale, 2018) and editor, among others, of Political Exile in the Global Twentieth Century (with Wolfram Kaiser).