Silvia De Zordo, Joanna Mishtal, and Lorena Anton (eds.)

New York- Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2017, 295 pp.

Reviewed by Brenna McCaffrey


Even as the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights have increasingly supported the fundamental right to sexual and reproductive health, the actual topography of abortion access in Europe represents a “fragmented landscape.” Silvia De Zordo, Joanna Mishtal, and Lorena Anton’s edited volume, A Fragmented Landscape: Abortion Governance and Protest Logics in Europe, takes up this contradiction, exploring the relationship between shifting forms of reproductive governance (Morgan and Roberts 2012) and protest logics (both pro- and anti- abortion) across various European nations. It approaches the issue of abortion in Europe from a number of perspectives, bringing together essays by sociologists, anthropologists, historians, political scientists, and physician-researchers specializing in abortion in different contexts. De Zordo, Mishtal, and Anton provide a clear introduction to the book, which describes the historical development of abortion rights across Europe in the post-World War II era and clarifies the book’s guiding theories of “reproductive governance” and “protest logics.” The authors’ use of “protest logics” as an analytical tool widens the purview of study beyond traditional activism, including forms of resistance (both pro- and anti- abortion) that happen within medical and professional settings: chiefly, conscientious objection for medical professionals, but also waiting periods, mandatory counseling, and concerns about “post-abortion syndrome.” While this book focuses on how these logics are playing out in Europe, it speaks to wider global shifts in reproductive governance, in which resistance to abortion rights have moved away from issues of legislation and towards control from within medicine.

The book is divided into four broad sections. The first two focus on “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion” protest logics across a number of sites, including Sweden, Italy, Russia, the UK, Belgium, and Switzerland. In chapters on pro-abortion protest logics, the authors highlight historical and ongoing tensions between gender-based rights claims and traditional notions of motherhood in defending the right to abortion in various European contexts. The chapters on anti-abortion logics call attention to shifts in rhetoric from “fetal rights” and explicitly religious claims, to a focus on the mental health of women and girls, coalescing around the traveling psychological category of “post-abortion syndrome,” as well as increased focus on the fetus as an individual in need of recognition, remembrance, and burial. The book’s third section focuses on the role of medical professionals in abortion governance, pointing out the absence of willing and trained abortion providers in many European contexts. Across these chapters, which focus on Italy, Spain, and Norway, the authors describe how the rise of conscientious objection for doctors and nurses has worsened this crisis and become a major barrier for equal abortion access even in nations with fairly liberal abortion laws. The book’s fourth section may be its strongest—it brings the protest logics of pro- and anti- abortion activists and medical professionals under the thematics of pronatalism and nationalism. These chapters examine Romania, Poland, and Northern Ireland as European sites where anti-abortion politics are overly determined by nationalist ideals about gender, motherhood, and reproduction.

An afterword by Lynn M. Morgan, the anthropologist who with Elizabeth Roberts coined and defined the phrase “reproductive governance,” helps to bring together the book’s many essays, and points out some areas for future research and attention. Morgan argues that the assumed universality of human rights discourse or “rights-talk” often used by feminist activists is a barrier to understanding the local contexts in which ideas about sexual and reproductive rights are operationalized in law and in practice. She highlights “pro-life” groups’ cooptation of the human rights framework to apply to the “right to life” of the fetus and the rights to religious freedom of doctors as rhetorical practices which have very real effects on abortion governance in Europe, as well as globally. Morgan also suggests that the book’s essays demonstrate forms of “stratified reproduction” (Colen 1995) and the ways that reproductive subjects are made and defined within the larger logics of the nation. These observations lead Morgan to point to a central conundrum faced by feminist scholars: “how to study reproductive rights ethnographically, in all its contested manifestations and complexities, while simultaneously insisting on a progressive (if not liberal, Western) definition of sexual and reproductive rights?” (271). She implores researchers of abortion politics to frame their questions within larger contexts of neoliberalism, global capitalism, and politics, and to be cautious of universalizing narratives about reproductive rights and social change.

This volume is a welcome addition to the literature on reproduction and abortion in Europe. It will be of interest to social scientists and feminist scholars concerned with issues of reproductive governance, human rights discourse and law, feminist activism, and the intersection of nationalism and gender.



Brenna McCaffrey is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at CUNY Graduate Center and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Lehman College, CUNY. Her research examines the interaction of activism, law, and medicine around use of the abortion pill in Ireland and the United States.



Works Cited 

Colen, Shellee. 1995. ““Like a Mother to Them”: Stratified Reproduction and West Indian Childcare Workers and Employers in New York.” IN Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction, Rayna Rapp and Faye Ginsburg, eds.

Morgan, Lynn M. and Elizabeth FS Roberts. 2012. “Reproductive governance in Latin America.” Anthropology & medicine 19(2): 241-254.


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