Panel of professors discusses reproductive rights: past, present and future

W&L professors present “After Roe: Perspectives of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs Ruling” in a historical context

Faith Chang, Staff Writer

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) hosted a panel on Oct. 25 discussing the history of racism in anti-abortion laws and the fight for reproductive rights in Latin America. 

“It is important to demystify abortion,” said professor Domnica Radulescu, co-founder of WGSS, while moderating the event. 

Radulescu hopes that by looking at the past and present of reproductive rights in the Americas, students will understand the context in which laws against reproductive rights have been able to thrive, and how those laws might be stopped. 

Mia Brett, a visiting assistant professor for the Department of History, began the panel with her presentation, “The Long History of White Supremacy & Racism.” In Brett’s presentation, she touched on how the lack of reproductive rights in America is tied to the history of slavery and the fear of losing a white majority population. 

“In the United States, there is no way to disentangle white supremacists’ racist goals from the anti-abortion movement,” Brett explained. 

Brett traced this history back to the 17th century, where slavery had made African American reproduction profitable. The more children African American women had, the more white slave owners could benefit. 

Brett pointed out that after the Civil War, reproductive rights had become more limited because of the fear that the white population would be overtaken by the newly freed African Americans. Having children became a “civic duty” for white women. This idea has continued to persist in America with the rise of immigration. 

“Reproductive agency for all is vital to upending these systems of oppression,” Brett said. 

Romina Green, a visiting assistant professor for Latin American History, introduced students to the Latin Americans’ strides for reproductive rights. One such stride occurred when a large organized movement, united under the symbol of their pañuelos verdes (green handkerchiefs), achieved legalized abortion in Argentina in 2020. 

The feminist movement in Latin America, as Green described it, focuses heavily on social feminism rather than individual feminism. Instead of considering what feminism can do for oneself, Latin Americans turned their attention towards how feminism can improve the lives of all women. 

Green explained that social feminism “expands the realms of social democracy, and expands rights for everybody else.” 

This focus on social feminism, Green said, pushes the feminist movement to rally against dictatorships and their tendency to limit personal freedoms for all. Past authoritarian regimes have reduced women to child-bearing property of their husbands and state. While the fight against dictatorship may seem like it has nothing to do with women’s rights, the two are closely intertwined. Fighting against dictatorships benefits all women. 

Green believes that one of the things the United States could take away from Latin America’s fight for reproductive rights is a focus on building a large central feminist movement. Green attributes most, if not all, of Latin America’s achievement in women’s rights to their emphasis on a more social approach to feminism. 

Radulescu left the audience with this final statement: “When women have no reproductive rights, they are at the mercy of their governments,” she said. “So much in [a woman’s] life depends on how she is going to carve out her destiny and a lot of that depends on reproductive choice.”