Conference Agenda

8D: Moralizing Pregnancy and Infancy through Care
Thursday, 09/Sept/2021:
3:15pm - 4:30pm

Session Chair: Prof. Hilary Marland, U of Warwick, Great Britain


Evangelising through care. The case of Catholic medical consultations for mothers and infants in Postwar Belgium

Masquelier, Juliette

Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium

Many authors have shown that, before 1940, care and protection of infants and young working-class mothers were entightened with major religious and political issues (Cova, 2000 ; Jusseaume, 2012 ; Marissal, 2014). From 1945, medicalization of pregnancy, birth-giving and motherhood continued to grow : childbirth gradually migrated to hospitals and contraception became a fully medical issue. The medical consultations of the Œuvre Nationale de l'Enfance (National Children's Charity) are one of the places where this medicalisation happened : from 1953, early medical monitoring of pregnancies became generalised, and from 1959 onwards, the ONE recommended that doctors vaccinate infants during consultations. These medical consultations were then disputed by two competing organising powers : the Catholics and the Socialists.

Based on a study of the archives of the Maternal and Child Services (SMI) organized by the Ligues Ouvrières Féminines Chrétiennes (LOFC), this contribution aims to shed light on how medical and religious issues were entangled within consultations run by Christian working-class women between 1945 and 1970. How, in this particular context, were the issues of morality, evangelisation and care organised ? On the one hand, using the archives of the various ONE councils in which the LOFC took part, I will show what was at stake for a Catholic presence in this medico-social organisation based on « subsidised freedom ». On the other hand, from the internal archives of the SMI, I will outline the Catholic ideological imprint on medical practices in consultations, particularly on certain ethical issues, such as breastfeeding, Lamaze technique (psychoprophylactic method for childbirth) or contraception.

Poverty, Pregnancy and the Longevity of Religious Influence in Glasgow, c. 1970s-2000s

Greenlees, Janet

Glasgow Caledonian University, United Kingdom

By the 1980s, despite the efforts of the organized Churches in Scotland to modernize, service attendance for the two most dominant religions, Presbyterianism and Catholicism, were in significant decline. With similar timing, but not necessarily related, the attitudes of the majority of members of both faiths towards maternity was changing to now view abortion as not always being wrong and that medical birth control was an increasingly acceptable way to limit births. Yet despite an increasingly secular society, by the end of the twentieth century religion had not entirely lost its relevance to Scottish healthcare debates. This paper explores how remnants from past family faith were reflected in women’s healthcare decision-making during pregnancy between c. 1970s and early 2000s. It draws on interviews with nineteen Glasgow women who were living in some of Britain’s most socio-economically deprived areas when they had their first child towards the end of the century. While the interviewees did not identify as religious, for many women, historic familial religious ties subconsciously influenced pregnancy behaviours. While arguing that faith was embedded in patient healthcare decision-making would stretch the realities in a secular society, the influence of religion in patient decision-making has not completely faded in favour of medical advice and trust in scientific techniques. While not necessarily at conflict with medicine, religious norms and values continued to exert a hidden influence in low-income Scottish communities into the 21st century.

Medical Advice for Moral Infancy: The Confluence of Science and Religion in America, 1850s-1920s*

Yang, Elisabeth M.

Rutgers University, United States of America

The emergent antagonism between science and religion was partially reconciled within the context of 19th century American paediatrics through the endorsement of theological morality by the medical profession. During the second half of the 19th century, the sceptre of moral knowledge concerning child-rearing matters was passed from pastor to physician. As historian Julia Grant notes, the discourse shifted toward a greater reliance upon science in matters of child-rearing. Scientific and medical expertise would supplant any theological advice on child-rearing as parents looked less to the church and more to secular tutelary complexes (which comprised psychologists, physicians, sociologists, and anthropologists). However, despite the secularization of child-rearing advice offered by experts, features of moral and spiritual health and its relationship to child’s health continued to figure in prominent ways. I argue that in spite of an alleged secularisation of child-rearing and understandings of infants’ moral development by the 1920s, there still existed religious, philosophical, cultural, and political overtones to a scientific morality among physicians, scientists, and child-rearing authorities. Spiritual terms continued to be used in physician-authored child-rearing manuals, such as “soul,” “spirit,” and “divine.” In this paper, I suggest that child-rearing discourse in the late 19th and early 20th century entailed a reappropriation of ideologies in which medical professionals promulgated scientific principles imbued with moral and religious valence, recognizing the infant's distinct emotional and spiritual capacities and needs. Rather than a “displacement” of theology, the emergence of a scientific morality espoused by physicians signified a “replacement” and syncretism of Protestantism and science.