Thursday, April 30, 2020
Mary Crossley, Reproducing Dignity: Race, Disability, and Reproductive Controls, UC Davis L. Rev. (forthcoming)
Human rights treaties and American constitutional law recognize decisions about reproduction as central to human dignity. Historically and today, Black women and women with disabilities have endured numerous impairments of their freedom to form and maintain families. Other scholars have examined these barriers to motherhood. Unexplored, however, are parallels among the experiences of women in these two groups or the women for whom Blackness and disability are overlapping identities. This Article fills that void. The disturbing legacy of the Eugenics movement is manifest in many settings. Black and disabled women undergo sterilizations at disproportionately high rates. Public benefit programs discourage their childbearing. Their ability to pursue motherhood is diminished by disproportionately high rates of institutionalization (either treatment-related or carceral) and low rates of access to assisted reproduction. Becoming pregnant is riskier, with risks flowing from medical ignorance regarding maternity care (for disabled women) or high rates of maternal mortality and criminal prosecutions (for Black women). Finally, if they become mothers, Black and disabled women are more likely to lose custody of their children to the state.
This Article argues that barriers to bearing children and forming families debase the dignity of Black and disabled women in meaningfully similar ways. In so doing, it points to an opportunity. Recognizing similarities (while appreciating differences) may equip participants in social movements – whether racial justice advocates, disability justice proponents, or reproductive justice activists – to build stronger coalitions to advance the dignity of reproductive choices for all women.