The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

History Program Events

10/29 – “Abortion as a ‘social issue’: New paradigms in Liberal Italy”

Alessandra Gissi on Abortion as a “social issue”: New paradigms in Liberal Italy.

6 pm in the History Thesis Room 5114.01.

In late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Italy, procured and self-induced abortion became more and more central to public, medical, scientific, and legal/criminal discourse. Concern about demographic issues, including abortion, was particularly strong  during the Libya campaign in 1911–‘12. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Italy had the third largest birth rate in Europe, despite very high infant  mortality. However, in a phase  of transition, Italy adopted the more general European fear about population decline (popularized especially by the French), and began to adopt a discourse that framed sexuality and the reproductive sphere as a “social question” to be progressively placed under the aegis of the law. Scholars, lawyers, doctors, sociologists, and anthropologists began to address the issue in debates, surveys, monographs, and essays. Through an analysis of trial documents and other public discourse, this lecture argues that procured and self-induced abortion became a “social issue” well before the notorious fascist demographic policies of the interwar period.

Alessandra Gissi, Assistant Professor in modern history, Department of Human and Social Sciences,  University of Naples “L’Orientale” (Italy), is a member of Italian Women Historian’s Association. After studies at the Universities of Rome (La Sapienza) and Amsterdam, she obtained a PhD in Women’s and Gender History from the University of Naples “L’Orientale.” Her areas of specialization include modern Italian and European history (especially population policies, history of midwifery,  history of politics and culture) and women’s history.  Her books include,  Le segrete manovre delle donne. Levatrici in Italia dall’Unità al Fascismo [The Secret Practices of Women: Midwives in Italy from Unification to Fascism] (2006); and Otto Marzo. La giornata internazionale delle donne in Italia [March 8th: International Women’s Day in Italy] (2010).


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