New Scholarship on Reproductive Rights

Posted on October 21st, 2008 by jeannie.chung

Did you ever stop to think that, despite all the international variations in policy and laws on reproductive rights, the experience of pregnancy and childbirth is truly universal?  We all have been part of the reproductive process, whether going through it or being the product of it. Nancy Northup very eloquently made this point in a recent panel entitled “New Scholarship in Reproductive Rights,” sponsored by the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Gender and Sexuality Law Program, and the Human Rights Institute.  In addition to Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights, panelists included Vickie Jackson, Professor at Georgetown University Law Center (visiting at CLS); Linda Fentiman, Professor at Pace University School of Law (visiting at University of Houston Law Center); Khiara Bridges, CRR/CLS fellow; Jessie Hill, Professor at Case Western University School of Law; and Carol Sanger, Professor at CLS (written submission).

This panel was great for someone (read: me) who cares very much about reproductive rights – but doesn’t know much about what’s been going on on the ground lately.  A few tidbits I learned: (1) abortion regulation varies enormously from country to country, (2) there have been a number of really important transnational cases that have expanded the notion of reproductive rights as human rights issues (i.e., one case in South America where the court found that essentially forcing a woman to give birth and not giving her access to an abortion amounted to cruel and degrading treatment), (3) there is an abundance of criminalization of pregnant women vis-a-vis their fetuses, which really goes against all the goals of criminalization (rehabilitation, deterrence, and so forth), (4) a New York City public hospital provides hostile, judgmental, and thus substandard care to low-income pregnant women of color, who have a reproductive right – to choose to give birth (and, largely by virtue of their race, are scorned by health care professionals who refuse to recognize these women’s rights to reproduce), (5) maybe we need to make access to abortion/reproductive rights a more affirmative governmental duty, (6) maybe we need to sound the discussion of abortion rights in a “right to health” framework because then we have a less gender-specific framework that recognizes the importance of autonomy in medical decision-making and gives respect to the doctor-patient relationship.  Read more about the panel here.  


Jeannie Chung

Jeannie Chung


Jeannie Chung is a second-year law student and research assistant for the Gender and Sexuality Law Program.


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