Controversies in Reproductive Health

By Poppema, Suzanne | Conscience, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Controversies in Reproductive Health


Poppema, Suzanne, Conscience


Reproduction and Society: Interdisciplinary Readings

Carole Ioffe and Jennifer Reich

(Routledge, 2014, 334 pp)

978-0413731034, $170

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

WHILE THERE IS EXCELLENT research in many disciplines about human reproduction, Reproduction and Society represents the only effort that I have seen to create a clear and comprehensive framework for understanding the controversies in reproductive health and place them logically within their much larger social context. Even as a physician who has been involved in reproductive healthcare my entire career, I found new ideas and points of view presented articulately within these pages. The editors draw from historians, journalists, activists and academics in sociology and medicine, all chosen obviously both for the content of their work as well as an ability to write about it engagingly. Joffe and Reich have created a powerful tool for engaging students and experts alike in thinking about all aspects of reproduction and of the social, economic and political issues that influence the men and women seeking to exercise their right to reproduce or not. It should be required reading for any student of human rights, gender issues, medical care and social justice, as well as physicians, lawyers, public health students, nursing students and/or sociologists.

The introduction sets the stage by pointing out that reproduction "is not simply a biologic process, but one laden with symbolic, political, philosophical, and ideologic meanings." Here the editors also outline the themes that will recur throughout the book: a feminist perspective; a close examination of race and class issues in reproduction; an inspection of the institutional settings where reproductive services take place; connections to the reproductive and social justice movements; and a section on global issues with a major focus on the US.

FERTILITY CONTROL AND SOCIETY

In the context of contraception and sterilization, the editors point out that throughout known history, men and women have sought to control their fertility and determine family size. At the same time, those in power have recognized that fertility control is a most powerful tool for rulers. These attempts have led to coercive birth control, as well as the withholding of birth control methods because "particular reasons for promoting or rejecting birth control typically represent cultural, political and economic currents in a society and vary across time and place." The very fact that fertility control allows women to be non-procreatively sexually active without a high risk of pregnancy can be socially destabilizing, presenting controversial new cultural norms.

Birth control has been part of the folklore of both primitive and advanced societies for millennia. Aristotle, Plato and other Greek physicians, Sanskrit and Islamic scholars, as well as the Chinese, Africans and others all had discussions about and methods for controlling fertility. An essay from the late feminist writer Toni Cade Bambera argues that, while not a panacea, oral contraceptives certainly give women control over some aspects of their lives and should not be dismissed as weapons of genocide against black women. There is also a quite shocking report on forced sterilizations performed on poor women of color in the US, showing the clear division between the way different classes and races experience reproductive health.

ABORTION: A HISTORICAL CONSTANT

The editors' main point in the section on abortion is that "abortion is a historical constant: whether legal or not, women have always sought abortion in every society for which there is a written record. "The five articles cover personal physicians' stories, as well as a fascinating look at men's perspective on the experience of abortion and a chilling discussion of the real-life effects of a judicial bypass system for minors seeking abortion in a state where parental permission is mandatory. …

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