Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement
and the Reproductive Rights Movement
Publication Year: 2003
While most people believe that the movement to secure voluntary reproductive control for women centered solely on abortion rights, for many women abortion was not the only, or even primary, focus.
Jennifer Nelson tells the story of the feminist struggle for legal abortion and reproductive rights in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s through the particular contributions of women of color. She explores the relationship between second-wave feminists, who were concerned with a woman's right to choose, Black and Puerto Rican Nationalists, who were concerned that Black and Puerto Rican women have as many children as possible “for the revolution,” and women of color themselves, who negotiated between them. Contrary to popular belief, Nelson shows that women of color were able to successfully remake the mainstream women's liberation and abortion rights movements by appropriating select aspects of Black Nationalist politics—including addressing sterilization abuse, access to affordable childcare and healthcare, and ways to raise children out of poverty—for feminist discourse.
Published by: NYU Press
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I could never have completed the dissertation that served as the basis for this book without the invaluable help of Alice Kessler-Harris, my dissertation advisor. She encouraged me when I wasn’t sure I could get all the pieces of the story to fit together in a coherent manner, and she sent me back to the computer screen when she believed I could do better. I also received very useful comments and advice from the other members...
Introduction: From Abortion to Reproductive Rights
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In 1973, Guadalupe Acosta, a poor Mexican woman living in Los Angeles, gave birth at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles County Medical Center to an encephalic child who died shortly after delivery.1 After her labor Acosta’s obstetrician sterilized her without her consent. At a postnatal check-up, Acosta requested the pill; her doctor chose that moment to inform her that she no longer had any need for...
1. “Let’s hear it from the real experts”: Feminism and the Early Abortion Rights Movement
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On February 13, 1969, seven women from a radical feminist organization called Redstockings disrupted the first New York State legislative hearings on abortion law reform. The radical feminists were incensed to hear that 14 men but only one woman—a nun—were scheduled to testify before the legislative committee. During the disruption, Kathie Sarachild, one of the most provocative participants in the Redstockings’...
2. “An act of valor for a woman need not take place inside of her”: Black Women, Feminism, and Reproductive Rights
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Black men active in the Black Power movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s made strong and sometimes inflammatory statements about the use of contraception and abortion by black women. An initial investigation of the discourse surrounding black women’s attempts to control their reproductive bodies suggests that black men dominated the emerging dialogue and made it a subset of the Black Nationalist impulse. Even white feminists...
3. “An instrument of genocide”: The Black Nationalist Campaign against Birth Control
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As we have seen, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party claimed that any contraceptive use among blacks would inevitably lead to the genocide of the population. This was the anti–fertility control rhetoric criticized by black and white feminists in the previous chapters. The Nation of Islam, founded in the early 1930s in Detroit and united under Elijah Muhammad in...
4. “Abortions under community control”: Feminism, Nationalism, and the Politics of Reproduction among New York City’s Young Lords
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Eighteen days after a new abortion law went into effect in New York State—on July 1, 1970—the heart of a 31-year-old Puerto Rican woman, Carmen Rodriguez, stopped during a saline-induced second- trimester abortion at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. She was the first woman to die from a legal abortion after the reformed New York State abortion law—legalizing termination up to 24 weeks—became effective.1 This tragic...
5. Race, Class, and Sexuality: Reproductive Rights and the Campaign for an Inclusive Feminism
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This statement—written in 1979 by the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse (CARASA) and published in the pamphlet “Women Under Attack”—represented a political high point in nearly two decades of feminist struggle to establish reproductive rights for women. The movement began in the late 1960s with the pre-Roe v. Wade feminist campaign for legal abortion that emphasized a woman’s...
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I want to conclude this history of the feminist reproductive rights movement by emphasizing how essential women of color were to the transformation of the abortion rights movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s into a more inclusive movement for reproductive freedom by the early 1980s. Despite their importance, the contributions of women of color to mainstream feminism, in general, and the abortion and reproductive rights...
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About the Author
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Jennifer Nelson is Director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women at the University of Mississippi. She completed her Ph.D. in U.S. and women’s history at Rutgers University in 1999. Her undergraduate...
Page Count: 237
Publication Year: 2003