Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America

Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America

Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America

Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America

Synopsis

A sweeping chronicle of women's battles for reproductive freedom throughout American history, Pregnancy and Power explores the many forces- social, racial, economic, and political- that have shaped women's reproductive lives in the United States.

Leading historian Rickie Solinger argues that a woman's control over her body involves much more than the right to choose an abortion. Reproductive politics were at play when slaveholders devised breeding schemes, when the U. S. government took Indian children from their families in the nineteenth century, and when doctors pressed Latina women to be sterilized in the 1970s. Tracing the diverse plot lines of women's reproductive lives throughout American history, Solinger redefines the idea of reproductive freedom, putting race and class at the center of the effort to control sex and pregnancy in America over time.

Solinger asks which women have how many children under what circumstances, and shows how reproductive experiences have been encouraged or coerced, rewarded or punished, honored or exploited over the last 250 years. Viewed in this way, the debate over reproductive rights raises questions about access to sex education and prenatal care, about housing laws, about access to citizenship, and about which women lose children to adoption and foster care.

Pregnancy and Power shows that a complete understanding of reproductive politics must take into account the many players shaping public policy- lawmakers, educators, employers, clergy, physicians- as well as the consequences for women who obey and resist these policies. Tracing the diverse plotlines of women's reproductive lives throughout American history, Solinger redefines the idea of reproductive freedom, putting race and class at the center of the struggle to control sex and pregnancy in America.

Excerpt

Like many women, I can summon up that old terror at will: being twenty-one and desperate to locate sensations in my breasts, in my belly, the first stains of blood—signs that my period is coming. I can also remember being twenty-eight and thrilled, my period a week overdue. I must be pregnant! Like many women, I learned early and often that sex-and-pregnancy, what I'll call “reproductive capacity,” can carry profoundly different meanings, depending on a lot of variables.

Having learned this personal lesson so well—that a biological event can mean such different things at different times in one's life—and being a person committed to social justice endeavors, I was drawn into a related scholarly journey. My work is about exploring the ways that reproductive capacity, including childbearing and motherhood, has carried a variety of meanings for and about girls and women in the United States. Pregnancy has carried different meanings depending on the age of a girl or woman and also depending on her race and on whether she is rich or poor or in the middle. The meaning of a pregnancy can also be determined by the historical moment in which it occurs.

Pregnancy and Power is an orientation to reproductive politics in U.S. history. I use the word “orientation” partly as a sign that the book will not cover every important event and development and movement that has shaped the variety of women's reproductive experiences over time. Nor will it cover the ways that each and every demographic group has felt the impact of reproductive laws and policies in the United States. In part because of where the historical sources exist, the experiences of white women and African American women are more fully discussed than those of Latina and Native American women and other women of color.

Here is what Pregnancy and Power will do: It will ask, what is reproductive politics? It will build a definition of reproductive politics and . . .

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