Fighting with the Sky

The Politics of Duplicity [Women's Studies Wednesday]

Posted on: October 7, 2009

pic2It’s sad that I didn’t know about the happenings in Romania under Ceausescu’s rule until I read this book: The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction in Ceausescu’s Romania by Gail Kligman.  I was shocked when I was reading this book to hear about what these women had to go through on a daily basis.

So here’s the deal: Ceausescu led one of the most repressive anti-abortion regimes.  Women were forced to get really back-alley abortions that were more often than not unsafe.  Because a large portion of the population was poor, they could not afford to have a real doctor perform their abortion — that was a privilege that was only for the uber-rich.  So if a woman got an abortion that went wrong and had to go to the hospital, she would then be arrested for getting an abortion and was not fully treated for the complications invovled with that abortion.  As a result of unsafe abortions, the maternal mortality rate was very high.

This anti-abortion legislation also led to over-population and a large orphanage population.  But the state did not adequately take care of the orphanages.  Children were malnourished and had never really experienced human contact.

From the back cover:

The political hypocrisy and personal horrors of one of hte most repressive anti-abortion regimes in history came to the world’s attention soon after the fall of Romanian dictator Nicholae Ceausescu.  Photographs of orphans with vacant eyes and wasted bodies circled the globe, as did alarming maternal mortality statistics and heart-beating details of an infant AIDS epidemic.  Gail Kligman’s chilling ethnography – of the state of of the politics of reproduction – is the first in-depth examination of this extreme case of political intervention into intimate aspects of everyday life.  Her analysis explores the institutionalization of duplicity and complicity as social practices that contributed to the state’s perpetuation and ultimate demise.

This powerful study is based on moving interviews with women and physicians a well as on documentary and archival material.  Besides discussing the social implications and human costs of restrictive reproductive legislation, Kligman examies how reproductive issues become embedded in national and international agendas.  She concludes with lessons the world can learn from Romania’s tragic experience.

What I loved about this book was that it was not only a historical account of the horrors of Ceausescu’s Romania, but Kligman also looks at the broader political implications and “examines how reproductive issues become embedded in national and international agendas.”

While this book documents a truly chilling story, it is definitely worth a read.  It is important to look at where we have been so as to not repeat these scary events again.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in reproductive rights and how access to women’s bodies affects national and international politics.

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