Does religion matter for histories of reproduction in post-war Europe? (cases France, Germany and the Nordic Countries)
Histories of assisted reproduction and Christian religions have highlighted tensions and conflicts, proscriptions and prescriptions (e.g. Sèvegrand 1995; McDonnell and Allison 2006; Man Wall 2010; Radkowska-Walkowicz 2018). Regarding artificial insemination, especially the Roman Catholic Church has been described as a conservative force, as Pope Leo XIII had decreed artificial insemination to be illicit as early as in 1897. In the words of Nick Hopwood, this decision was a ‘milestone in articulating a Catholic discourse that engaged with interventions in reproduction earlier and more uncompromisingly than other religions’ (Hopwood 2018, p. 583). Yet research has also drawn attention to opposition against artificial insemination within other Christian religions, most notably Anglicanism and other Protestant traditions (Davis 2013; 2017; Richards 2014).
In the history of medicine more broadly, recent histories have reassessed these widespread storylines of conflict: drawing attention to entanglements and cross-overs (Pia Donato 2013), questioning common associations between ‘religion’ and ‘conservatism’ (Horn 2015; Chappel 2018), and revealing substantive gaps between official church teachings and the discourses and practices of those who considered themselves to be faithful (Woodcock Tentler 2004; Harris 2018; Kelly and Ignaciuk 2020). To sum up, historians have begun to clear up popular and scholarly misconceptions about the homogeneity and stability of religious opinions concerning medical developments. However, this more nuanced approach until today remains largely confined to medical histories of contraception. Religious debates on assisted reproduction have received far less attention (Betta 2017), even though there is an equally important story to be told.
Aiming to showcase new empirical research in the history of medicine and reproduction, this roundtable will focus on artificial insemination with donor sperm (AID). From the 1940s to the 1970s, AID became a reliable if controversial reproductive procedure, resulting in the birth of thousands of children. In this roundtable, three panellists will discuss the diverging developments of this controversial technology in Europe, looking at France, Germany, and the Nordic Countries. The panellists are currently collaborating on a special issue on the post-war history of artificial insemination, and grasp this conference as an opportunity to reflect about the role of religion, from religious authorities to individual believers.
In this light, the roundtable will address the following contested questions:
1) Did religion matter in the post-war histories of AID? If so, how and to what extent did religion influence the development of and discourses around AID across the aforementioned national contexts?
2) How did religion interact with other medico-moral arguments about AID? What was the role of doctors, theologists, legal regulators and patients in these processes?
3) How did historical shifts in the importance of religion over the decades impact on reproductive policies in various national contexts?
4) Which other explanations need to be considered to explain differences and similarities between different national contexts?
By comparing how religion played out in various national contexts, the panellists not only shed new light on the history of AID in post-war Europe, but also reassess widespread deterministic accounts of modernity, secularisation, and sexual reform.