Biopolitics without Borders: An Intersectional Re-reading of the Abortion Debate in (Un)democratic Czechoslovakia (1920-1986)

Title: Biopolitics without Borders: An Intersectional Re-reading of the Abortion Debate in (Un)democratic Czechoslovakia (1920-1986)
Authors: Prajerova, Andrea
Date: 2018-04-11
Abstract: This dissertation analyzes the political and expert discourses behind the legalization of abortion from the first attempt to decriminalize it in 1920 when democratic Czechoslovakia was established to 1986 when the institution of abortion commissions was banned during socialism. Drawing on biopolitical theories and critical feminist and disability studies that problematize the liberal understanding of rights, choice and autonomy, I shed a new light on reproduction policies by drawing parallels between the socialist and democratic regimes. Instead of assuming the mutual exclusiveness of the two systems, my inquiry starts from a different position and destabilizes the boundaries between East and West, active and passive, liberal and totalitarian. My main research question explores what sustains the continuity of the 1986 law, which allowed abortion on demand, in the new post-1989 capitalist and allegedly more democratic system. The aim is not to answer why the law was enacted, but rather what it unleashes in terms of citizenship practices. Through a geneaological intersectional lens, I go back in Czechoslovak history and follow the simultaneous paths of women’s liberation from a patriarchal order of things and their subjection to the ableist desire to achieve a nation full of strong and capable citizens. I deconstruct how the ideal female citizen-subject – the white, bourgeois, healthy, well-off modern woman of reason who individually plans her reproduction and has children only when and if she can – was constructed throughout the different historical discourses; and with what effects for the “other” categories of women – the poor, young, old, sick, the disabled, ethnically different. I argue that from their onset abortion rights were conceptualized as a regulatory strategy of power aimed at maintaining a certain population optimum by redefining women’s responsibilities as mothers who were to deliver a healthy child into a healthy environment. I am thus concerned with a certain type of biopolitical rationality, which defied tradition and religion and started to fear the degeneration of a collective more than its depopulation. Hence not every pregnancy was desirable, especially when seen as a threat to women’s or children’s health. I identify three stages of this epistemological shift when women’s health and sexuality collided into law and children’s health: its building efforts after WWI, developing spasms after WWII and functioning as a normalized structure of recognition from the 1960s onward. I demonstrate how eugenics trespassed into population politics and together with planned parenthood created a complex system of socio-biological classes of (un)desirability, determining who should belong to the nation, who should reproduce, whose life is worth living, loving and thus worth of protection. By elaborating on what I have termed female biological citizenship – that women function as civilizational identifiers and (self-)regulators of the quality and health of the nation, I suggest they are never free in regard to reproduction regardless of the political system. I conclude that this focus on the biological erases the distinction between socialism and capitalism, integrating women’s will as a governing tool to achieve societal progress.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -