Monday, October 24, 2011

Women, Reproduction and Rights in Journal of Women's History

The fall issue of the Journal of Women's History focuses, in part, on reproduction and rights.  Here are a couple of works from the issue that may be of interest to legal historians.  "Abortion Will Deprive You of Happiness!" Soviet Reproductive Politics in the Post-Stalin Era by Amy Randall (Santa Clara Univ--History), published in Journal of Women's History, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Fall 2011) is available here.  The abstract follows.
This article examines Soviet reproductive politics after the Communist regime legalized abortion in 1955. The regime's new abortion policy did not result in an end to the condemnation of abortion in official discourse. The government instead launched an extensive campaign against abortion. Why did authorities bother legalizing the procedure if they still disapproved of it so strongly? Using archival sources, public health materials, and medical as well as popular journals to investigate the antiabortion campaign, this article argues that the Soviet government sought to regulate gender and sexuality through medical intervention and health "education" rather than prohibition and force in the post-Stalin era. It also explores how the antiabortion public health campaign produced "knowledge" not only about the procedure and its effects, but also about gender and sexuality, subjecting both women and men to new pressures and regulatory norms.
The same issue of the journal contains a Book Review of five works on "Gender, Fertility, and Modern Medicine," by Laura J. McGough (University of Ghana--School of Public Health), available here.
The abstract of the review follows. The reviewed books are:

Few issues are as central to women's history as reproduction, which, in many societies, has defined women's role. The importance of having children has made infertility a major social stigma, borne primarily by women, while the inability to limit the number of births has also placed a burden on women who historically have been responsible for raising children. None of this is news, of course. What is new in this latest crop of books on the topic of fertility and reproductive health is the subtlety with which the authors approach the subject, no longer dividing the world into feminist heroes and villains, but respectfully examining the flawed, all too human protagonists who tried to help women in difficult circumstances whether that involved assisting women with too many children, helping women gain access to birth control, or helping infertile couples (but usually focusing on the women) to conceive.