Okategoriserade The Poland Affair

In Communist Poland, women had the right to abortion on request since 1956, while in Sweden, access to abortion was limited. The ”Polish solution” received ample attention in Swedish media. In the 2000’s, Polish abortion policies were once again referred to as a reason for changing the Swedish abortion law, but the situation was now a very different one.

Published on balticworlds.com on april 9, 2016

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In 1964, at the conference ”Sex and Society”, which as arranged by the Liberal student union in Stockholm, two young women were interviewed on a darkened stage. Both women had had their abortion applications turned down, and while one of them now was a single mother, the other women told the audience that she had travelled to Poland to have an abortion.

In Communist Poland, women had the right to abortion on request since 1956, while in Sweden, access to abortion was limited. The ”Polish solution” received ample attention in Swedish media. Hundreds of women called or wrote to the Liberal student union for information on how to get in touch with a Polish gynecologist. What made this into an ”affair” was that in 1965, Sweden’s Office of the Prosecutor-General announced plans to instigate legal proceedings against the women who had abortions in Poland and against Hans Nestius, one of the organizers of the, for aiding them. Nestius was brought in for questioning and his home was searched in a attempt to find names and adresses.

The Liberal student organization FPU and the Social Democratic student association SSSF had already in 1963 advocated for the introduction for abortion on demand in Sweden. But the Poland affair marked a shift in the swedish abortion debate. The Poland affair mobilised the Swedish public, and shortly thereafter the government decided to grant both the women and Nestius a nolle prosequi. They escaped prosecution. The government also appointed an Abortion Commission to review the nation’s abortion laws, and ten years later, in 1975, abortion on demand was introduced in Sweden.

In the 2000’s, Polish abortion policies were once again referred to as a reason for changing the Swedish abortion law, but the situation was now a very different one. Abortion had been criminalized in Poland since 1993, but Polish women had no access to or possibility to go to Sweden for abortion since the Swedish law excluded foreign citizens from access to this form of healthcare. In the debate, Swedish women’s abortion trips to Poland in the 1960’s was brought up, as well as the importance of solidarity with Polish women. In 2008, the Swedish abortion law was revised. It was now added that also foreign women have the right to abortion in Sweden, according to regulations concerning health care in Sweden for non-Swedish citizens.

  • by Lena Lennerhed

    Professor in History of Ideas at Södertörn university. She has written books and articles about the history of sexuality and history of abortion. Her book on illegal abortions in Sweden, Historier om ett brott, was published in 2008. Her ongoing research is about abortion and psychiatry in Sweden 1938-1975.

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