Thursday, September 11, 2014
Friday, January 2nd
WILE Business Meeting (and Networking Event), 6:30-7:30 p.m.
(Note: This is a change in date and time from the printed program you likely received last month.)
Come to the WILE Business Meeting to learn more about how to get involved with WILE and to network with your colleagues from around the country. Chair-Elect Wendy Greene, Cumberland Law, is working to make this a fun networking event!
Saturday, January 3
Co-Sponsored Program, Liberty-Equality: Gender, Sexuality, and Reproduction—Griswold v. Connecticut Then and Now, 8:30 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.
Presented by the Section on Constitutional Law and co-sponsored by the Sections on Women in Legal Education and Legal History, this program marks the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the ground-breaking Supreme Court decision recognizing a right to privacy that protected individuals in making decisions about the use of contraceptives from the reach of state criminal law, but spoke implicitly to the constitutional underpinnings of an individual’s rights or interests in intimacy, marriage, procreation, sexuality, and sexual conduct. Panelists will place the case in historical context, and explore the development of the Griswold doctrine, as well as its implications for current constitutional controversies over access to reproductive health care, marriage, sexuality and sexual conduct.
Section on Women in Legal Education Luncheon, 12:15 – 1:30 p.m.
We are pleased to announce that this luncheon honors both Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is scheduled to attend and for whom the Section on Women in Legal Education Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award is named, and this year’s Award recipient, Herma Hill Kay, UC Berkeley. Join us to spend some time with and hear from our honorees.
Joint Program: Engendering Equality: A Conversation with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, and New Voices in Legal History, 1:30 – 3:15 p.m.
This Section on Legal History and Women in Legal Education Joint Program, co-sponsored by the Section on Constitutional Law, explores the history of women’s equality and the legacy of Justice Ginsburg. The first portion of the program will, through a conversation between Justice Ginsburg and Wendy Williams, consider the ideas and strategies shaping Justice Ginsburg’s efforts as an advocate, an academic, and a Justice to equal citizenship for women. The second portion of the program will present a panel of new voices in Women’s Legal History who study the complex and often contradictory ways in which social, political, and legal actors have appealed to gender and equality in movements of the past, and suggest how such studies might engender/inform equality’s future.
AALS Crosscutting Program: The More Things Change . . . Exploring Solutions to Persisting Discrimination in Legal Academia, 2:00 – 3:45 p.m.
This program, spearheaded by WILE Member Meera Deo, draws from empirical data, legal research, litigation strategy, and personal experience to both further conversations about the persistence of discrimination in the legal academy and activate strategies for addressing ongoing structural and individual barriers. Intersectional bias compounds many of these challenges, which range from the discriminatory actions of colleagues and students, to the marginalization of particular subject areas in the curriculum, to structural hierarchies in the profession.
By creating an avenue for direct personal exchange regarding these topics, the program seeks to build community between like-minded individuals who are diverse across characteristics of race, gender, class, teaching status, institution, and age. The focus of the participants is to share best practices and explore new approaches for overcoming ongoing discrimination, with the hope that these strategies may be more broadly employed.
The program follows an innovative format. After short presentations by three speakers, the program transitions to an “open microphone” session of speakers (selected in advance from a “call for remarks”) including those who are untenured, women of color, allies to marginalized faculty, clinical, legal writing and library faculty, and others with perspectives that may differ from the majority. The final thirty minutes are reserved for questions and conversation.
Monday, January 5
Co-Sponsored Program: Emotions at Work: The Employment Relationship During An Age of Anxiety, 10:30 a.m. -12:15 p.m.
This program, presented by the Section on Labor Relations and Employment Law and co-sponsored by the Sections on Socio-Economics and on Women in Legal Education, recognizes that in uncertain economic times that translate into uncertain times in the workplace, many individuals are experiencing a greater range and intensity of emotions at work, both as employees and as employers. Employees may be anxious about job security even when they have an employment contract or other job protections, may feel more pressure with respect to their work responsibilities, and may be emotionally (and not just financially) unprepared for sudden changes to their employment relationships and changes in career plans. Employers also are experiencing heightened pressure as they try to steer their work organizations safely past the rough economic waves while needing to make some hard decisions along the way. Are these emotions in the workplace openly recognized and managed, and if so, how? This panel explores the emotional aspects of the employment relationship and how employment law or workplace policy should address these concerns.
This year WILE established a subcommittee to organize an oral history project so that we might capture the law school experiences of women professors who have retired or are close to retiring before we lose touch with them in the profession. The subcommittee, headed by Marie Failinger at Hamline, has been working on an interview packet (invitation letter, release, tips for interviews, and sample questions) and on inviting senior law professors to be interviewed. Justice Ginsburg will be interviewed this month, but we still have several interviewees who need to be matched with an interviewer; we hope to have as many as 12 videotaped interviews on the Saturday and Sunday of AALS.
We could use your help as an interviewer for this project. Those who have done oral histories know that it's a great opportunity to forge a bond and learn a lot about what a previous generation of women law professors experienced. As mentioned, interviewers would be matched with an interviewee and supplied with the materials you need to do a good interview. All that is required of interviewers is a small amount of prep time and about an hour for the interview at AALS. If you are willing to interview, please contact Marie Failinger at firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com>, 651-523-2124, or Kerri Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org, 305 348-1154. Many opportunities to do interviews at future conferences or at home schools will be available, so even if you're not coming to AALS or have a full schedule there, please let us know if you'd be interested in interviewing at some point.
See you at AALS!
The AALS Section on Women in Legal Education Executive Committee
Kirsten Davis, Chair
Wendy Greene, Chair-Elect
Bridget Crawford, Immediate Past-Chair
Rebecca Zietlow, Secretary
Kerri Stone, Treasurer
Cindy Fountaine, Member-At-Large
Saturday, September 6, 2014
From WaPo, Feminism Unfinished
“Feminism Unfinished"... argues that the “wave” metaphor obscures the history of a continuous American women’s movement sustained by labor activists, civil rights advocates and social-reform campaigners, who may have looked placid on the surface but were paddling like hell underneath. Each of the three authors contributes a chapter to their history of American feminism, and they declare together in their prologue that “there was no period in the last century in which women were not campaigning for greater equality and freedom.” They hope that uncovering the “multiple and unfinished feminisms of the twentieth century can inspire” the women’s movements of the 21st. That’s the surprise signaled in the teasing subtitle.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
From the review:
In The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment, Corrine M. McConnaughy sets out to “develop a general framework for understanding why politicians act to widen the democratic circle, and use that framework to explain the politics of woman suffrage” (p. 4). She argues that previous studies of the woman suffrage movement focused too closely on the suffragists and not enough on the lawmakers who actually gave women the right to vote. To fill this void, she examines the legislative process in several states to discover how and why a majority of their legislators were convinced to support woman suffrage.
McConnaughy’s study begins with a general discussion of suffrage in America and analyzes how the electorate expanded over the decades. In connection with this, she offers what she describes as two models of enfranchisement: strategic enfranchisement and programmatic enfranchisement. She defines strategic enfranchisement as when “a single political party acts to enfranchise new voters expecting to reap electoral rewards” (p. 34). As an example, she describes how the Republican Party fought for suffrage for African Americans in the years following the Civil War and was rewarded with the votes of these new members of the electorate. Programmatic enfranchisement, on the other hand, is when pressure for change comes from the voters. A third party appears that holds so much leverage with voters that the major parties are forced to address the key issues presented in that new party’s platform or face the defection of a large number of voters.
After rejecting strategic enfranchisement as a framework to explain how women gained the vote, McConnaughy turns to individual states to build a case for programmatic enfranchisement.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Inez Milholland Boissevain, labor lawyer, feminist, and suffragist, joined Harriot Stanton Blatch’s Equality League of Self-Supporting Women (later the Women’s Political Union) and lectured, arranged rallies, and testified at hearings. A pacifist in World War I, Inez became a war correspondent in Italy. Her beauty and social standing were an asset to the movement, and she gained fame as the “Suffrage Herald,” riding a horse at the head of two vast suffrage marches, one down New York’s 5th Avenue, the other in Washington, D. C. in 1913. She was so striking a figure that she became a suffrage symbol, part of the movement’s enduring imagery.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Thursday, May 22, 2014
From Ms., Writing Her In: Wikipedia as Feminist Activism. An easy, and immediate way to change and correct history. Just do it.
I’m tired of looking for important female artists on Wikipedia and finding no information, while second-rate male artists have pages and pages written about them.
The Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon was dedicated to changing this.During the edit-a-thon, Lesperance wrote a Wikipedia entry for Christina Ramberg. “There is no good reason why she wasn’t already on there,” Lesperance told me. “All of her male colleagues of the Chicago Imagists were represented on Wikipedia, and I’m finding this [omission] is typical.”
Omissions like this can be easily corrected. Lesperance said she felt an “air of empowerment at the ease with which an addition to that archive—which receives so much readership—takes place.”
Saturday, May 17, 2014
From the WSM newsletter:
With the April 2014 issue we are publishing a new Document Project, the second half of a Document Archive, and we are launching the publication of our Black Woman Suffragists database, complemented by a strong array of book reviews, teaching tools, and News from the Archives.
Melanie Gustafson is the author and editor of a document archive, "Maud Wood Park Archive: The Power of Organization," part 1 of which we published last fall and part 2 appears in this issue. Together the two parts include more than 140 documents, principally from the Schlesinger Library and the Library of Congress. Park was a key player in the winning strategy of the National American Woman Suffrage Association that secured passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. After 1920 she served as the first president of the League of Women Voters. The documents collected here illuminate the history of the organized women's movement in the United States between 1910 and 1950. They are particularly valuable to understanding the founding of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College, organized originally around the Women's Rights Collection, which consisted principally at first of the papers of NAWSA and Maud Wood Park. Beth Robinson has authored the document project, "How Did the League of Women Shoppers Use Their Privilege to Act in Solidarity with Workers, 1935-1948?" which explores a Popular Front organization that was active from 1935 until 1949, when red-baiting forced the organization to disband.
League members recognized that because women did the majority of family shopping, they wielded considerable influence. Through its slogan, "Use your buying power for justice," the League sought to mobilize middle-class and wealthy women as socially active consumers, reaching a membership of 25,000 in cities as diverse as San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Atlanta.Robinson constructs the answer to her framing question by tapping records of a number of urban branches of the League.
We publish in this issue the first installment of the Black Woman Suffragists database, which is the result of almost five years of work. Based on the pioneering scholarship by Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, this collection consists of 1,200 items totaling more than 12,000 pages. Tom Dublin and a team of students have assembled these published and unpublished writings of sixty Black woman suffragists first identified by Terborg-Penn. The writings are accompanied by an introduction by Terborg-Penn and eighteen scholarly essays that treat major authors in the group. We expect to publish these writings and scholarly essays in five chronological installments from March 2014 to March 2016. This first installment, available online now, includes more than 150 items totaling more than 1,600 pages.
We are planning a new crowdsourcing initiative to accompany the publication of the Black Woman Suffragists database. If you are aware of significant writings by any of our author activists that we have not included in the database, please email Tom Dublin at email@example.com and we will endeavor to publish the documents in later installments. Our goal is to make this database the most authoritative source for the published and unpublished writings of Black woman suffragists.
We round out this issue with other valuable resources, including ten book reviews, News from the Archives, and three Teaching Tools. If you are interested in reviewing books or have titles to recommend for review, please email our new book review editor, Kathleen Laughlin (Kathleen.Laughlin@metrostate.edu ) Please note as well the announcements in the News from the Archives section, assembled by Tanya Zanish-Belcher, of Wake Forest University. If you would like to make an archives-related announcement in a future issue, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WOMEN AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS INTERNATIONAL:
Meanwhile, we hope you have had a chance to view our other online digital archive, Women and Social Movements, International—1840 to Present. Since January 2011 we have published six installments of this new archive, which is now complete with150,000 pages of primary documents. It includes both published and manuscript materials generated by women's participation in international conferences and organizations over a period of 170 years, from missionary and abolitionist activities in the first half of the nineteenth century to women's NGO activism in the early twenty-first century. We have also published twenty-five secondary articles by scholars working in fields related to the sources in the archive. These essays place the primary materials within a broader interpretive context and offer suggestions on how best to use these online resources. Finally, we have posted on the database videos of seven oral history interviews with activists from the UN Women’s Conferences held between Mexico city in 1975 and Beijing in 1995. These activists also participated in two stimulating sessions at the 2011 Berkshire Conference on Women’s History and videos of those sessions are also available on WASM International.
Alexander Street Press is making this resource available to libraries through subscription or purchase plans. Your acquisitions librarian might be interested in one of these options. He or she should contact Eileen Lawrence (Lawrence@astreetpress.com) at Alexander Street Press for subscription information and/or to request a free trial of Women and Social Movements International. Please let us know your reactions to Women and Social Movements International.
FUTURE ISSUES of WASM: Future document projects in our pipeline include:
• The Prison Letters of Angela Davis
• Protestant Women and Japanese Incarceration during World War II
• The Around-the-World Trip of Carrie Chapman Catt and Aletta Jacobs, 1911-12
• Women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
• The Progressive activism of Victoria Earle Matthews
• The Harlem YWCA and Black Women's Activism
• The California Commission on the Status of Women
TO SUBMIT A PROPOSAL:
We welcome new proposals for document projects or archives. Our national editorial board oversees a peer review system that evaluates prospective contributions and offers editorial support to author/editors. If you are interested in preparing a document project based on your research, we would be glad to exchange email with you about your work and the submission process. Please contact Tom Dublin at email@example.com or Kitty Sklar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In concept, though not in funding. In Time for Mother's Day, House Approves Bill to Advance National Women's History Museum in DC. As a scholar of women's legal history, I'm always glad to see us getting the rest of the historical story. But I don't like the continued segregation of "women's" issues. What really needs to happen is that women's history becomes part of the regular history. See Tracy Thomas, Mainstreaming Women's History in Law
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
TRANSGENDER women in Malaysia have filed a groundbreaking court case challenging a law that prohibits them from expressing their gender identity, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 22, 2014, the Putrajaya Court of Appeal is expected to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the laws.
Three transgender women from the state of Negeri Sembilan are asking the court to strike down a state law that prohibits ''any male person who, in any public place wears a woman's attire or poses as a woman,'' which has been used repeatedly to arrest transgender women.
All three petitioners, who identify as female but are described as ''male'' on their national identification cards, have been arrested solely because they dress in attire that state religious officials deem to be ''female.''
Thursday, May 8, 2014
I just published the book chapter, Teaching Women's Legal History in Teaching Legal History: Comparative Perspectives (Robert Jarvis, ed. 2014). Here's an excerpt:
My objectives for the class focus on women, historical relevance, and feminist methodology. First, the class is designed to explore the historical development of women’s rights in the law, information that is mostly absent in other courses except for a scattered representation in constitutional law. Second, my goal is to foster an appreciation for the modern significance of that history. This “applied legal history” approach seeks a useable past that enables history to be relevant to ongoing legal disputes of gender. Finally, the course introduces and utilizes feminist methodology of deconstruction and integration. It trains the students to read the law with suspicion by looking beyond the seeming objectivity of the law to expose assumptions and biases. It also then adds to that law and context the omitted experiences of women. There is value in expanding feminist methodology beyond the usual feminist theory class because it offers a critical way of approaching the law, emphasizes social context, and teaches gender as a core value.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
I have just published Back to the Future of Regulating Abortion in the First Term, 29 Wisconsin J. Law, Gender & Soc'y 47 (2014). In this work, I draw on original research of oral histories and recovered documents to explore the historical and legal context that spawned informed consent laws so early after Roe v. Wade seemingly resolved the legal question over abortion.
From the abstract:
This article contextualizes the recent aggressive anti-abortion legislation by examining the backstory and historical context of two early U.S. Supreme Court cases challenging abortion regulation in the first term: City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, and Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health . Little has been written about these foundational cases. Yet at the time of the first Akron case, the Supreme Court’s decision was “celebrated as the most far-reaching victory on reproductive rights since Roe v. Wade.” Now the arguments, strategies, and motivations of the Akron cases have renewed relevance, as first-term regulations are fast tracked through the judicial system and placed at the center of the ongoing debate over abortion. ***
This legal history offers insights and analyses gleaned from a review of the historical record found in archives and long-forgotten files in dusty basements. It relies on interviews with key players in the cases to fill in the story between the black and white lines of judicial opinions.Revisiting the legal and factual details of the foundational cases of first-term abortion regulation offers a more nuanced understanding of the opposition to abortion and the unsatisfactory nature of the judicial compromises.
Monday, April 28, 2014
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Michael Higdon (Tennesse) has posted Marginalized Fathers and Demonized Mothers: A Feminist Look at the Reproductive Freedom of Unmarried Men, Alabama L. Rev. (forthcoming). Higdon explores
“Thwarted Fathers” and “Conscripted Fathers” — to reveal a serious problem that both share. Namely, the fathers in both categories have suffered a significant abridgment of their reproductive freedom, which the Supreme Court has identified as a fundamental right, either by having fatherhood forced upon them without consent or by having fatherhood withheld from them by deceit and subterfuge. In addition, what is particularly troubling about both classes of cases is that, in all of them, the person who was allowed to ultimately control the father’s reproductive freedom was the mother. After all, in both cases, it was decisions the mother unilaterally made that determined how much reproductive freedom the biological fathers would ultimately enjoy.
Thinking of the problem in those terms, such laws start to bear some resemblance to common law coverture, whereby all the wife’s legal rights were placed in the hands of her husband, which he would then dole out to her if and when he saw fit. Feminists fought hard to end these legal disabilities and, in the process, revealed the harms that arise from one gender being given dominion over the legal rights of the other.
This argument, though, is based on the assumption that feminists fought coverture by demanding equal parenting rights. Nineteenth-century feminists did challenge coverture and its restrictions on property and contract by demanding formal and substantive equality of rights. But, for parenting rights, these feminists demanded gender-specific rights of sole female control. Challenging the prerogative of forced marital sex, the marital rape exception, involuntary motherhood, and parental custody and guardianship laws, feminists demanded unilateral, woman-only control. Voluntary motherhood, the right to choose when to procreate, the unilateral right to refuse sex, and maternal custody presumptions were the solutions--all gender-specific, unilateral, female-only rights. Why? Because in parenting, the woman was the sole partner who had to bear the pregnancy and care for the child.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Mary Ziegler (Florida State) has been blogging with us this past month. Her work in legal history focuses on the law and history of abortion, illegitimacy, contraception, marriage, and child care.
As I end my visit to Gender and the Law, it’s worth imagining what women’s legal history will look like in a decade or decades from now. I’ve suggested that we reevaluate what counts as a women’s legal movement—that we look in new and unanticipated directions when we do women’s legal history. We should also carry on important work that questions the definition of law. It is easy to fall back on traditional understandings: we study lawyers and professional identity, the relationship between social movements and legal reform, the influence of women on legal doctrine and of legal doctrine on women’s lives and the meaning of gender.
But women have always practiced law in unconventional ways, in unpredictable places. Historians are teaching us that women created law regardless of whether they had formal legal training. Social workers, bureaucrats, grassroots advocates, politicians, and ordinary citizens interpret the law in ways that matter, even if we cannot find evidence of their visions in contemporary rules. My own work explores how new understandings of constitutional law have formed in abortion clinics or street protests. These interpretations of the law looked very different from the ones set forth by the federal courts. Those practicing law were abortion providers and social workers, patients and doctors. Even though these women never sought legal counsel or changed black-letter rules, their understandings of law shaped who got reproductive healthcare and how women understood themselves and their decisions. These narratives about the past teach us how gender and law have remained fluid and contested. What we mean when we talk about women’s legal history will certainly change, since both gender and law remain open to re-imagining.
Legal history tells one small part of the story of women who have transformed our understanding of family, community, society, and law. Fundamentally, women’s legal history helps us understand not just where we are but where we can go. It reminds us of how women will continue to redefine what law could mean and be.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Mary Ziegler (Florida State) joins us as a guest blogger this month. Her work in legal history focuses on the law and history of abortion, illegitimacy, contraception, marriage, and child care.
Whom are we studying when we study the history of gender and the law? Some answers to this question seem obvious. We study pioneers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul. We celebrate the accomplishments of thinkers like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Catharine MacKinnon. In researching my book, I often found the answer to this question much less clear-cut. In contemporary politics, the identities of the pro-choice and pro-life movements seem stable and straightforward. In the immediate aftermath of the Roe decision, things were far less simple. An influential committee in the ACLU worked to identify fetal rights compatible with reproductive liberty for women. Feminists viewed issues like fetal tissue research with ambivalence. Influential antiabortion activists fought for federal legislation banning pregnancy discrimination. Indeed, some pro-lifers argued for what they saw as women’s right to choose, claiming that women did not enjoy true reproductive freedom unless the State protected them against both pregnancy discrimination and the perils of poverty.
A rapidly shifting gender politics forced many of these lawyers and grassroots activists to make painful choices. The mobilization of the New Right and Religious Right, the focus of abortion-rights activists on electoral politics, and the realignment of both political parties helped to create the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” categories we now know. So too did difficult and hotly debated strategy decisions made by members of each opposing movement. For many, the creation of contemporary abortion politics was a painful change, forcing women to choose between two identities when neither accurately reflected their fundamental beliefs about gender or sex discrimination.
Part of the task for historians of women and the law is to remain open to the stories of those who don’t always come to mind when we think about feminist legal history. These stories may not change our politics or our views of the relationship between gender and the law today. Just the same, these stories powerfully illustrate why gender matters and how gender changes. They remind us how entrenched political and legal realities once seemed—and may once again seem—far from inevitable
Thursday, March 13, 2014
The quote has been attributed to everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Eleanor Roosevelt, but its origin comes from an academic paper by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who in 1976 was a student at the University of New Hampshire. Her focus was on the history of early American women who were not featured in history books of the past. Her paper began,Cotton Mather called them "The Hidden Ones." They never preached or sat in a deacon's bench. Nor did they vote or attend Harvard. Neither, because they were virtuous women, did they question God or the magistrates. They prayed secretly, read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed. Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven't been. Well-behaved women seldom make history; against Antinomians and witches, these pious matrons have had little chance at all.By 2007 her phrase became what now would be called a "meme," and in a newspaper interview, Ulrich said,It was a weird escape into popular culture. I got constant e-mails about it, and I thought it was humorous. Then I started looking at where it was coming from. Once I turned up as a character in a novel -- and a tennis star from India wore the T-shirt at Wimbledon. It seemed like a teaching moment -- and so I wrote a book using the title.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Mary Ziegler (Florida State) joins us as a guest blogger this month. Her work in legal history focuses on the law and history of abortion, illegitimacy, contraception, marriage, and child care. Her post last week introduced her topic of exploring feminist legal history.
What do we mean when we talk about feminism? My book project has forced me to reconsider how I would answer this question. My scholarship fits comfortably within any classic definition of feminist legal history: I focus on the intersection of law and history in the context of reproductive health, divorce, marriage, and abortion. I consider myself a feminist and a historian. I brought these understandings of myself and my work to the book and the question at its core: how did Roe v. Wade impact social-movement debate and what can the history of the decision teach us about law as a tool for social change, in the context of gender relations more broadly? Research for the project took me to over seventeen archives, to the basement of convents, and the offices of anti-feminists. The most fun came in the oral histories I conducted with over 100 of those who participated in the abortion wars in the decade after Roe. I spoke with men and women, doctors and homemakers, lawyers and activists, abortion opponents and population controllers, and feminists of every stripe. What I learned made me wonder what it meant to be “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” As importantly, the research made me question who should count as a proper object of study for women’s legal history.
At the beginning of my research, I had treated pro-choice activism as synonymous with the women’s movement—unquestionably a core subject for feminist legal historians. I learned that the relationship between women’s rights and the legalization of abortion was much more contested than I had predicted. Identifying a cause with women’s rights had profound ideological and strategic ramifications. Physicians, population controllers, and even feminists wondered if embracing the rhetoric of women’s rights would set back the progress of abortion reform.
Law also played a surprising and unanticipated role in the creation of the abortion-rights cause. On the one hand, feminists could use the Roe decision in arguing that their movement should frame abortion as an issue of women’s rights. The Supreme Court’s approval made the idea of abortion as a woman’s right more legitimate, more mainstream, and more politically palatable. On the other hand, feminists’ wish to preserve that victory created damaging internal debates about the proper scope of a reproductive-justice agenda, about protections against sterilization abuse, and about what counted as true reproductive liberty.
I wonder how often causes and social movements we identify as feminist have a more troubled history. Did different legal movements once count as feminist? Might social causes associated with feminism today once have had a radically different meaning, both legally and politically? It is questions like these that make Women’s History Month more exciting than ever for feminist legal historians.