“Family planning” in East Central Europe from the 19th century until the approval of the “pill”

Project Leader: PD Dr. Heidi Hein-Kircher

Funding: BMBF (funding no. 01UC1902)
Duration: 2019-2022

Still today, family planning practices, namely, abortion and (free) access to contraceptives, continue to be a highly politicized and controversial topic across all societies. This is shown, for example, by the considerable restrictions that have been placed around the possibility of getting an abortion under the current Polish government as well as by recent debates in the Federal Republic of Germany concerning lifting the ban on the advertising of abortion doctors. Various sociopolitical, social and cultural influences, on the one hand, and the increase in contraception and abortion practices on the other, saw “family planning” or “birth control” develop into a liberal ideal of the modern age across the Euro-Atlantic region.

This development was influenced by Anglo-American and German practices together with discourses taken from (women’s) emancipation, sexual reform, population-related policy, eugenics and “racial hygiene”. However, a fundamental premise of this project is that an important influence can also be found in the ideologized family policy of the Soviet Union. “Family planning” should thus not be perceived solely as an individual, liberal legal concept, but also as the object of sociopolitical state interventions. So, “family planning” is a highly politicized and, at the same time, a deeply secular moral concept. A basic assumption is that this moral concept developed from “below” through individual practices, partly based on the newest medical and technical knowledge, and that the discourses that legitimized or rejected it reacted to these practices. “Family panning” is therefore seen as a societal moral concept which, on the one hand, took effect transnationally, but on the other hand also mirrored the respective sociopolitical, ideological and, ultimately, also governmental needs. At the same time, the transnational networks will be analyzed by referring back to the discourses, but also by visiting international congresses and through exchanges with researchers, scientists, activists and politicians who are active in this field. By following this approach, transnational networks can be worked out and presented in detail and the transfer of ideas and values can also be mapped out together with the specific foundations and special characteristics of respective societies’ understanding of “family planning” and thus also of “family”. Using a comparative approach, the project investigates the long-term development of “family planning” from the mid 19th century until the introduction of the “pill” in the 1960s.


Subproject 1: Between “Honeymoon Hygiene” and “The Hell of Women”: Polish Debates on Family Planning from the 19th Century to 1939

Dr. Elisa-Maria Hiemer

The discourses and practices concerning “birth control”, which emerged around the turn of the 20th century, initially reflected the policies of the imperial powers of the German Reich, Russia and the Habsburg monarchy. However, they were overlaid, especially after the founding of the state, with various demographic and nationality-related policy objectives, especially since Poland, which was established as a nation state, in fact had a strongly multi-ethnic character. Significantly, in the long term, society was influenced in a particular way by the Catholic church and the consequences of the First and Second World Wars. The aim of this project is to identify the relevant networks and key figures that were responsible for bringing attitudes and approaches from “central” discourses and debates to the “periphery”, and to work out how society received these developed them further.

Subproject 2: „Be Fruitful and Multiply“. Slovakia’s Family Planning Under Three Regimes (1918-1965)

Dr. Denisa Nešt’aková

The project focuses on the family planning in Slovakia within the history of Czechoslovakia, as the deeper dive into the existing secondary literature has proven that the historical research on family planning has been primarily focusing on Czech lands, and has neglected examination of the Slovak case within Czechoslovakia. The researched space and period between 1918 and 1965 sheds light on a key importance of reproduction of population during three different geo-political bodies and regimes (Democratic Czechoslovak Republic; fascist-like Slovak State; and Socialist Czechoslovakia). It demonstrates the tension between the national interest and an individual decision of family planning.

The project utilizes historical sources including files of political and legal character, regional situational reports, trials against women and men who broke laws regulating access to contraception and abortion, but also period newspapers, and magazines, as well guidelines for couples. Framing the history of family planning in the area of today’s Slovakia within the broader social history of Czechoslovakia offers a more detailed view on the developments of family policies of under-researched Slovak part of Czechoslovakia. Additionally, it helps to comprehend the current political and ideological struggle over women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Slovakia.