Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Roundtable: Reproductive Technologies and Reproductive Justice

Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Roundtable: Reproductive Technologies and Reproductive Justice

Article excerpt

To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and to invite conversation about the broader global and American landscapes of reproductive politics, the Frontiers editors convened a roundtable of scholars and activists who have made major contributions to feminist research in the field. Beginning with a question about the legacies of the Roe decision, we also asked our contributors to reflect on other landmarks in the history of struggles for reproductive justice and to share their perspectives on ongoing challenges. Contributors had the opportunity to engage with each other's comments, and some were able to continue the discussion in person at a Frontiers-sponsored roundtable at the National Women's Studies Association's Annual Conference in Oakland, California, in November 2012. The conversation thar appears here is based on the contributors' written comments and was put together in this format by Mytheli Sreenivas.

The year 2013 is the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade. What do you think are the most important legacies of this Supreme Court decision for contemporary women's reproductive issues, both in the United States and globally?

SMITH: The legacy of the Roe v. Wade decision was to narrow the agenda of reproductive justice to abortion rights. While abortion rights are important, they are only one aspect of a larger reproductive justice agenda. Roe v. Wade framed the right to abortion through the right to privacy rather than through the lens of gender equality. This framework easily lent itself to a more libertarian framework around freedom from government intervention. However, this framework was limited in terms of the responsibility of the government to ensure all have equal access to abortion services. Hence, the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is endangered, was not deemed inconsistent with Roe v. Wade. Thus, even today mainstream reproductive rights groups do not address issues like dangerous contraceptives in communities of color, repealing the Hyde Amendment, environmental racism as it impacts the reproductive systems of indigenous women and women of color, poverty as it affects women's ability to access reproductive health services, and so on. Reproductive justice has become equated with the right of some women who can afford it to have abortion.

BRIGGS: In 1979, when I was in tenth grade, my best friend--let's say her name was Alice--got pregnant. I drove Alice to a Planned Parenthood in the nearest city for her pregnancy test and then her abortion, a little nervous and overwhelmed, but also terrifyingly aware that her options would have been sharply more narrow (or at least more complicated and expensive) only six years earlier. That same year my guidance counselor made us all take a career aptitude test. I knew I wanted to grow up and be a doctor (the medical sort, not the PhD'ed kind I turned out to be), so I answered all the questions to throw the annoying test in that direction. When I got the results a few weeks later, it said that as a girl with medical interests, I should be a nurse. I was pissed.

In those few months I was intensely conscious of where I was swimming in history, aware that the vocational guidance test results represented an era that was passing away (because I knew, with a sixteen-year-old's certainty, that I was going to be part of making it road kill) and conscious, too, that Alice's abortion marked a new moment. I knew that our ability to graduate and get some years away from high school without children or marriage was the gauntlet we had to run to ensure we had real choices in our lives. By most measures our lives have been, in fact, much freer than our mothers'. Alice dumped the loser boyfriend who "forgot" the condom, we both went to college, got good jobs, and each had two children--me as a lesbian, she without the controlling first husband. …

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