Matters of "conscience": the politics of reproductive healthcare in Poland

Med Anthropol Q. 2009 Jun;23(2):161-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1548-1387.2009.01053.x.


The fall of state socialism in Poland in 1989 constituted a critical moment that redefined policies regulating reproductive health and access to care. As the Polish state adopted the discourse and agenda of the Catholic Church in its health policies, reproduction and sexuality became sites of moral governance through the implementation of the Conscience Clause law, which permits healthcare providers to deny medical services citing conscience-based objections. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this article explores the effects of the implementation of the conscience clause and argues that the adoption of this law for individual use paved the way for restrictions on reproductive healthcare on a systemic scale. The special status afforded to the church is highly significant for access to health services deemed by the church to be matters of morality. The Polish case raises concerns about the place of women's rights in postsocialism and the nature of Polish democratization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced
  • Catholicism*
  • Conscience*
  • Contraception
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Ethics
  • Female
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Poland
  • Politics
  • Public Policy
  • Reproductive Health Services*
  • Women's Rights