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223 Chapter 6 Living with Contradictions: Contraception and Abortion and the Contemporary Greek Family At the end of the Second World War, the birth rate in Greece began to ­ tumble until, by the late 1990s, it approached a world-historical low.1 Today, the oneto two-child family is the norm, if still not exactly the professed ideal. And so, in just a generation or two, the high-fertility regime described in Chapter 3 was replaced by one that is now below the level required to maintain the population. Baby-bust demographics similar to Greece’s are common throughout Europe and declining birth rates are a global trend. What is intriguing about the Greek context is that this shift has been achieved largely through the seemingly anomalous combination of traditional birth control methods, mainly coitus interruptus and condoms, and intensive recourse to medical abortions. Only a small fraction of Greek women rely on medical means of contraception such as the pill and the IUD, and their numbers have barely changed over the last twenty years. Thus, whereas pregnancy and birth were swiftly and thoroughly medicalized, often with the active, even enthusiastic, collaboration of women themselves, the medicalization of contraception appears to have been roundly refused. At the same time, medical abortion is a commonplace, a procedure experienced, sometimes repeatedly, by up to half of Greek women over the course of their reproductive lives. In this chapter, I explore some of the ostensibly puzzling contradictions that beset Greek birth control practices, contradictions that hamstring any attempt to tell a straightforward story of inevitable medicalization yoked to a relentlessly homogenizing process of modernization. As described in Chapter 5, Rhodian women hardly act like docile bodies in clinical encounters with their obstetricians; rather, they typically expect, demand, and appreciate the intensive use of prenatal and birth technologies. Outside and beyond the clinical encounter, they pursue additional biomedical knowledge through pregnancy 224 Bodies of Knowledge guides and other media, endeavoring to tutor and transform themselves into scientifically literate, modern pregnant subjects. How, then, to reconcile their often eager embrace of biomedical knowledge and technological interventions in pregnancy and birth with their overwhelming rejection of biomedical technologies to control fertility? And, if biomedical technologies often serve as readily recognizable, even sublime, signifiers of a desired modernity, as I have suggested in previous chapters, why are some staunchly refused and others just as fervently embraced? I explore each of these apparent contradictions in turn, beginning with the broader context of the demographic problem that is widely lamented as bedeviling the Greek nation today. The Demographic Problem, (Failed) Maternity, and the (Orthodox) National Body Politic At the most general level, the demographic problem refers to the concern that the Greek population is somehow inadequate and must be increased for the sake of national welfare and security. Similar concerns date back almost to Greek independence, when undernatality was first recognized as a serious threat to the nascent nation building project. At that time, however, Greece’s birth rate was high and showed no indication of decreasing. Instead, nineteenth -century discourse on undernatality focused on the high rates of infant and child mortality that were perceived to be sapping the nation’s vigor and military strength, and ultimately thwarting its irredentist aspirations (known as the “Great Idea”) to annex Greek-speaking populations still living under Ottoman rule. Medical and educational experts of the day concurred in identifying women’s “wrong-headed,” “superstitious,” “irrational,” and ultimately lethal child-care practices (feeding and swaddling in particular) as the root causes of high rates of infant and child death (Korasidou 2002). By the latter half of the twentieth century, concern over the state of the national population had surfaced once again to become the subject of public interest and debate . Today, the demographic problem refers almost exclusively to the nation’s exceptionally low birth rate, although in the 1960s and 1970s, the effects of the large-scale migration of Greeks seeking employment as guest workers in Western Europe were also recognized as contributing factors. By the 1980s, blame for the stagnant and aging condition of the national population was increasingly attributed to the “undernatality” (ipoghenitikotita) of Greek women and, in particular, to their widespread resort to abortion (Athanasiou 2001; Halkias 2004; Paxson 2004; Skilogianis 2001). In Greece today, there is broad consensus that women’s undernatality poses Living with Contradictions 225 a real danger to the vitality and very continuity of the nation. An especially clear sense of the scope of public...


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