My past research in Poland and Ireland sparked my interest to understand the politics of reproduction in Malta, an EU country of less than half a million people living on an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a place where the Catholic church and close church-state relations have been decisive in shaping gender and sexuality laws. Recently, however, things are rapidly changing there as evidenced in major policy shifts. For example, the Maltese had no way of divorcing until 2011 when divorce was finally legalized by a national referendum. Only five years later in 2016, the Ministry of Health approved over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception (Plan B), and even more surprising was the legalization of same sex marriage in 2017. All of these policy changes were intensely opposed by the church, making these rapid shifts extraordinary from the perspective of anthropological analysis.
Why focus on Malta?
Currently a debate about decriminalization of abortion is escalating in Malta, making it an important place to watch. What sociocultural and political sentiments are underpinning these major changes? Why now? I’m particularly interested in how these political and social movements emerge and what sustains them. How does the EU and other international actors like the United Nations influence (or not) Maltese politics around gender and sexuality? I’ve had the opportunity to conduct some preliminary fieldwork in Malta during summers of 2018 and 2019 to begin to understand the key dynamics and actors involved in these debates. I hope to return to Malta for a longer project soon.
A few images:
Here are a few photos from this beautiful and interesting country with Roman, British, French, Latin European, and Arab influences. Just like in Poland and Ireland, Catholicism is declining with less than 50% of Maltese practicing this religion nowadays, but affiliation remains high at about 90%. The Catholic iconography is common throughout the islands. Both Maltese and English are official languages.
Brocher Foundation Residency: Switzerland 2018-2019
I spent July 2018 at the Brocher Foundation in Hermance, Switzerland, as a Visiting Researcher to conduct data analysis and write about my sabbatical work on cross-border reproductive health travel. My work was funded by the Brocher Foundation, which promotes international and multidisciplinary research in the field of new medical developments as linked to society through analyses involving law, anthropology, history, bioethics and philosophy. During the residency I had a chance to network with 12 other scholars in social sciences, humanities, and public health working on health policy issues. I also had the opportunity to attend talks and discuss my fieldwork with researchers at the World Health Organization in Geneva.
In 2019, I was invited by the Foundation to the Brocher Alumni Meeting (July 24-27) to present about the social, political, and ethical implications of both cross-border medical travel and particular forms of gendered health governance that perpetuate stratification of care.
Brocher Foundation Residency: Switzerland 2015
In the summer 2015, I held the Brocher Foundation Residency in Hermance, Switzerland. With 13 other colleagues from Canada, Denmark, Ireland, the UK, the US, and Australia, I had the opportunity to think and write about my research on Assisted Reproductive Technologies and questions of policy and regulation (or lack of) which have been of research interest in the last couple of years, both pertaining to my work in Poland on the in-vitro debate, and the larger European policy context.
During my Residency, my colleague Magda Radkowska-Walkowicz (medical anthropologist at the University of Warsaw) and I organized The Brocher Symposium which brought together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and experts involved in research, publication, and advocacy work in the area of ART policy, health care policy, bioethics, patient rights, and patient experiences with ARTs. The purpose of the Symposium was to examine the current ART situation in Europe from a multi-disciplinary as well as cross-national perspective, and consider ways in which ART health policies could be improved and harmonized with specific legislative solutions and advocacy efforts. The Symposium convened scholars and advocates with expertise that ranges from experiences in nations that currently have comprehensive ART policies to those that have inadequate regulation or subsidies for ARTs. The range of speakers covered 5 disciplinary areas:
- medical anthropology
- health advocacy
The success of the Symposium motivated us to launch a peer-reviewed special issue project to publish our work. This effort has been underway in the fall 2015.
Understanding Advocacy: Poland 2014-2015
In the summers of 2014 and 2015, I conducted research in Warsaw, Poland titled, “Understanding Advocacy Work in the Struggle for ‘In Vitro’ Regulation in Poland.” In this project my objective was to examine the work of the Our Stork (Nasz Bocian) non-governmental organization (NGO), which was advocating for the establishment of state policy that would regulate “in vitro” health services in Poland. Our Stork — The Association for Infertility Treatment and the Support of Adoption — is the main NGO in Poland devoted to this issue. Since 2002, this group had been advocating for a change in the current health policy to regulate “in vitro” — or assisted reproductive technology (ART) — services and to include them in the national healthcare coverage. In this research project I collected data with activists working at Our Stork NGO to examine two distinct but interrelated Research Questions:
- How are advocacy strategies formulated by the activists of Our Stork in order to reform the health policy related to ARTs?
- What are the key obstacles Our Stork is experiencing that impair the organization’s advocacy efforts?
This study is significant from the policy perspective because it relates directly to health policy and demographic policy —both are important to US foreign policy interests. Population’s health and a very low birthrate in Poland are critical for the Polish labor market structure and the overall economic development and sustainability of a recently democratized nation. Additionally, unequal access to health services, (only the wealthiest access ARTs in Poland) also reflects the challenges of democratic governance. This project is in the data analysis phase as of fall 2015.
From 2013 to 2015, together with two colleagues we have completed an interdisciplinary research project in London, the United Kingdom, titled, “Experiences of Non-Resident Abortion Seekers in the United Kingdom: A Pilot Study.” My co-Investigators were S. De Zordo, Ph.D., University of Barcelona, and C. Gerdts, Ph.D. University of California – San Francisco. Our work was funded by the European Society of Contraception & Reproductive Health Care.
European Union: Belgium 2010
My research in Brussels titled, “Reproductive Governance in the European Union” and conducted at the European Union in 2010 with the help of my Research Assistant, Lauren Novak, focused on the analysis of reproductive governance and policy-making in the EU, especially in the context of intersecting local and international EU reproductive politics. Part of this data collection involved preliminary fieldwork in Ireland with the reproductive health and rights advocates. My work in Brussels included interviews of members of NGOs involved in political processes at the EU as well as EU library archival research.
Reproductive Health Providers: Ireland 2009-2010
In the summers of 2009 and 2010 I conducted six months of fieldwork in Ireland reproductive health providers, primarily general practitioners (GPs) and secondarily obstetrician/gynecologists (Ob/Gyns). The aim of the study was to explore doctors’ perspectives at the intersection of religion and medicine by examining how Irish doctors understand the influence of Catholicism and the Church in their medical practice in the area of reproductive health. My approach was to include doctors’ religious and medical trajectories as well as perspectives and experiences regarding reproductive policies and abortion travel. I recruited doctors with the help of three professional organizations which allowed me access to their email lists in order to present my study: the Irish Catholic Doctors Association, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland – Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Irish College of General Practitioners. The Irish GPs provide the majority of family planning, while Ob/Gyns offer services at maternity hospitals and in private practices, and therefore address fetal abnormalities. The doctors’ locations varied from urban and suburban areas of Dublin and Cork, to small towns and rural villages in the midlands, the west of Ireland near Limerick and Galway, and as far north as Dundalk on the border with Northern Ireland.
Between 2000 and 2002, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Poland as part of my dissertation work at the University of Colorado at Boulder, under the direction of Donna Goldstein, Ph.D. Specifically, in 2000 I carried out preliminary research and followed up with a full year of work in 2002. This research forms the basis for my doctoral work titled, “Contradictions of Democratization: The Politics of Reproductive Rights and Policies in Postsocialist Poland.” I was based in Krakow, but also conducted substantial research in Warsaw. My work was funded by Fulbright Scholarship.