Religious Fundamentalism and the Decline of Women’s Reproductive Rights in Central Europe

A Lesson from Ireland
Seminars and Colloquia

In the shadow of population decline some Central European states have turned their attention to curtailing women’s access to abortion and in the case of Poland, effectively outlawing it. These policy moves are not only the work of illiberal governments. They are also heavily linked to religious institutions who for decades have labelled women’s reproductive rights as enemy number one on the battlefield of moral values. Calling for a “return to traditional family values” is not the path to economic and social prosperity. Yet it is a clarion call sounded from Warsaw to Budapest. Furthermore, these moves are indicative of the Church’s desire to maintain its political as well as religious influence as a growing number of people in the region chose a more secular life.

In May 2018 Ireland set the path for abortion to be legalised after a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the constitution. This wasn’t just a plebiscite about a woman’s right to choose – it was also about voting out some of the last vestiges of ‘Catholic Ireland’, a place where women’s rights were regularly ignored. This discussion will examine the relationship between church, state and reproductive rights in Poland and Hungary while drawing some parallels with Irish history. It will also explore if Ireland’s traumatic relationship with the church can give any indication of future attempts to roll back women’s rights in these Visegrád states.

The speaker is Amanda Coakley, Milena Jesenská Fellow at the IWM and award-winning journalist who has written for Foreign Policy, The Irish Times, The Guardian and POLITICO Europe.

Dennis Patterson, Board of Governors Professor of Law at Rutgers University, provided the comment.

Ivan Vejvoda, IWM Permanent Fellow moderated the colloquium.