On the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Signs would like to highlight some of the work on reproductive rights and reproductive justice that has been published in the journal, emphasizing in particular how feminist scholarship has broadened the conversations around abortion in ways that both insist on the necessity of access to abortion and reproductive health care and provide an unflinchingly critical approach to the ways that the gender and racial politics of reproduction, abortion, and health care are framed. Again and again, feminist scholars have questioned the limitations that these frames place on an expansive vision for the future of reproductive freedom, as well as on how framing affects women’s access to health care in the present.
The capacious vision laid out in Rosalind Petchesky’s landmark 1980 article “Reproductive Freedom: Beyond ‘A Woman’s Right to Choose’” remains relevant in the face of increasing restrictions on access to abortion, despite the fact that the article was published over thirty years ago. Working through the philosophical genealogies of feminist positions on abortion, Petchesky uses a Marxist feminist lens to broaden the scope of the “right to choose.” She considers the tensions between an emphasis on the bodily integrity and self-determination of individual women, on the one hand, and the social embeddedness of reproduction, on the other, to advocate for dramatic changes in the relations of reproduction as they are currently articulated.
Cynthia Daniels and Laury Oaks both interrogate how discourses around fetal and maternal health prove problematic for women’s autonomy and access to abortion. Daniels raises concerns about the raced-gendered politics of fetal harm as related to the figure of the “crack baby.” She asks why men have been absent from the frame of this racialized “crisis,” and she carefully considers what it would mean if men were included. Oaks’s article, “Smoke-Filled Wombs and Fragile Fetuses: The Social Politics of Fetal Representation,” examines how the representations produced by those involved in antismoking campaigns converge with those of antiabortion campaigns, serving to discipline women and center the fetus as an individual in need of protection.
Further complicating the picture of reproductive politics within feminist scholarship, Dorothy Roberts’s “Race, Gender, and Genetic Technologies: A New Reproductive Dystopia?” brings together critical race feminism and disability studies to examine the implications of women of color’s inclusion in the market for reprogenetic technologies, a move that Roberts argues is consonant with the logics of neoliberal privatization and the racialized stratification of reproduction. By framing reprogenetics within the context of “eugenic thinking,” Roberts’s argument serves as a reminder that reproductive “choice” can carry multiple valences embedded in racist and ableist histories. Roberts’s article appears in a thematic issue on reproductive technologies, in which articles consider topics as varied as genetic counseling, the stem cell enterprise, infertility, and autism—all of them shaped by, and all of which continue to shape, the political subject positions enacted by Roe v. Wade.
Articles by Carrie Lambert-Beatty and Mary Gilmartin and Allen White draw attention to the mobilities produced when women seek out abortions in places where access is restricted and how these mobilities are themselves affected by race and class. Gilmartin and White, writing in the context of a symposium on Gender and Medical Tourism, discuss the ways in which abortion shapes international borders in their account of “abortion tourism” from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. Lambert-Beatty, meanwhile, considers ways in which the movement to provide access to abortion may even create new floating, temporary “lands,” in her discussion of Women on the Waves, a shipping container that functions as a mobile clinic, providing abortions for women who, literally, can access them only in international waters.
Most recently, Kimberly Kelly has examined the gendered negotiations of authority within the contemporary crisis pregnancy center (CPC) movement. She delineates recent shifts in the logic of this Evangelical pro-life movement, shifts that often put the women who run the centers at odds with the male leaders of the movement. Kelly’s sensitive portrayal of the actors in the CPC movement illuminates the centrality of women within conservative politics and their power to reshape gender ideology and religious identity. While the women Kelly writes about are clearly opposed to Roe, Kelly’s account casts light on a gendered struggle that, even within the religious movement against abortion, often strays from the party line and relaxes the mandate to avoid abortion at all costs in favor of an empathetic, service-oriented approach.