//  5/17/19  //  In-Depth Analysis

Take Care is pleased to host a symposium on Reproductive Rights and Justice Storiesan important new book edited by Professors Melissa Murray, Katherine Shaw, and Reva B. Siegel. Contributors will relate themes, stories, and case histories in the book to recent developments in American life and law. 

President Donald Trump’s immigration policy has repeatedly targeted the reproductive dignity and autonomy of individuals and families who lack immigration status. His administration has ramped up the practice of separating children from their families, with the result that hundreds of children are currently being held in detention centers along the nation’s southern border. He has called for the repeal of birthright citizenship, referring to children born on U.S. soil by the derogatory term “anchor babies.” His administration has denied abortion access to pregnant immigrants being held in immigration detention centers.

The publication of Reproductive Justice Stories comes at an opportune moment to help readers contextualize the Trump administration’s moves within a larger history in which the reproduction of marginalized people and communities are disproportionately regulated, denied, criminalized, and pathologized. This collection of stories behind legal cases in the United States is wonderful for its ability to bring the lives of the real human beings involved in the cases to the fore.  The Collection reveals the way that reproductive rights and decisions—to have children, not to have children, and to raise children in dignity—are impacted by social, economic, and structural systems of oppression.

Maya Manian’s chapter, Coerced Sterilization of Mexican-American Women: The Story of Madrigal v. Quilligan, tells the story of a case in which ten Mexican-American women were sterilized after signing coerced informed consent forms in a county-run medical center in Los Angeles. Professor Manian’s chapter details that while the Supreme Court prohibited the use of eugenic sterilization in Skinner v. Oklahoma, sterilization abuse remained a common practice—primarily targeted upon women living in poverty and women of color. In California, as the case of the Madrigal Ten highlights, sterilization abuse of Mexican-American women was driven by racial prejudice and ideological notions of Mexican-American women as hyper-fertile and concerns over population control, immigration, and welfare costs.  

Professor Manian’s chapter stands together with Melissa Murray’s chapter, Sexual Liberty and Criminal Law Reform: The Story of Griswold v. Connecticut, to reveal the ways that race, class, and immigration status impact an individual’s ability to exercise reproductive autonomy. Professor Murray’s chapter recovers the history of Griswold v. Connecticut as a case involving the criminal regulation of contraception as a means of regulating public morality. As Professor Murray describes, amid fears over the decline in the birth rate among native-born white women, Congress passed the Comstock Act, which criminalized the use of the postal service for distribution of contraception. Alongside the Madrigal Ten case, the Griswold chapter reveals that at the same time the state denied the reproductive capacity of women of color living in poverty, it coerced and enforced the reproduction of white, native-born women by criminalizing access to the means of controlling their fertility.

The Collection also reveals the ways law constructs idealized families and mothers as white, nuclear, marital, procreative, heterosexual, and organized along a breadwinner-homemaker gendered norm. Deborah Dinner’s chapter on Sex Equality and the U.S. Welfare Regime: The Story of Geduldig v. Aiello, for example, describes how the Court’s decision that upheld exclusion of pregnancy in disability programs rested on the assumption that pregnant women on maternity leave did not need disability because they would be supported by a breadwinning spouse.  Professor Murray’s chapter also details how Griswold constructed a notion of privacy that was “tethered” to the institution of marriage and the marital couple. Griswold’s privacy protects marital couples from state interference. By contrast, Priscilla Ocen’s chapter Pregnant While Black: The Story of Ferguson v. City of Charleston, shows law’s heavy hand in the reproductive lives of people of color living in poverty who’s reproduction is surveilled through drug testing and criminalized when they are forced to rely on public health care providers. Like the Madrigal case, Crystal Ferguson’s reproduction was seen as pathological and not worthy of the type of privacy and respect of the Griswold marital family.

These same themes reverberate in Trump’s immigration narrative of good motherhood and families deserving of protection from the threat of outsiders whose reproduction is problematized and restricted. At the same time that Trump has pathologized, restricted, and criminalized Latinx reproduction, he has argued that strong immigration policy is necessary to protect American values, mothers, and families. Trump implicitly equates “good” reproduction with white, native-born mothers and explicitly calls on women’s support by linking their interest in protecting their families and children in safe neighborhoods with protecting the nation’s borders. At a recent rally he told the crowd, "Women want safe neighborhoods for their families, they want great schools, healthcare for their children. They want to keep drug dealers and predators and traffickers ... they want them out of our country and we do that. The Democrats don't do that, they want the open borders.”

In his appeal to white women voters Trump draws explicit connections between women’s interests in protecting their families and communities and the president’s role in protecting national borders. He recently argued that “[b]order security is very much a woman’s issue. Women want security. They do not want that caravan.” As one white woman at a recent rally summed up her support, “He understands why we’re angry and he wants to fix it. . . . He wants to protect this country, and he wants to keep it safe, and he wants to keep it free of invaders and the caravan and everything else that’s going on.”  

These fears and Trump’s immigration rhetoric draw upon a familiar narrative that pathologizes immigration and immigrant reproduction as a threat while protecting and supporting the nation’s “good” mothers, families, and neighborhoods.  It is theidealized, white mothers that Trump is speaking of when he describes the need to protect mothers, families, and neighborhoods from the threat posed by immigrants. 

More broadly, Reproductive Justice Stories draws the reader’s attention to the importance of telling the stories behind legal cases together to reveal how law constructs and regulates reproduction. When court cases are read in isolation, they make internal sense. Courts set forth a legal rule and apply it to the facts in a seemingly objective and neutral manner. However, when the lens is pulled back, as it is in this collection of stories, we can better see the social, political, and economic forces that shape courts’ and other lawmakers’ understandings of reproduction and reproductive rights and decisions. The reproduction of marginalized individuals and communities is routinely surveilled, denied, criminalized, and pathologized, even as the reproduction of less marginalized individuals and communities are constrained in perhaps lesser but still troubling ways.  

Reproductive Justice Stories does an excellent job of revealing that law’s regulation of intimacy, families, and reproduction is neither objective nor neutral. Rather, law reflects and reinforces normative values and inequalities.


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