Living naturally, most of the time.

NWSA panel addresses pregnant women and feminism

I was thrilled to learn that my friend Jessica Clements, birth artist and organizer of last October’s “Perinatal” symposium on birth practices and reproductive rights, was part of a panel  this past weekend on “Pregnant Women: The Outsiders in the Women’s Rights Discourse” in Denver at the Annual Conference of the National Women’s Studies Association:  Difficult Dialogues II.

Jessica reports a great response to her panel; I can’t wait to learn more when she returns from a much-deserved vacation. This woman is blazing a trail between feminism and birth rights. Until I learn more, I wanted to at least share the general information about what looks like a fabulous panel.

Pregnant Women: The Outsiders in the Women’s Rights Discourse

Scheduled Time: Sat, Nov 13 – 2:20pm – 3:35pm

Room: Plaza Concourse Level / Governor’s Square 16

Session Participants:

Birth Activism as Feminism

*Jessica Clements (George Mason University)

Pregnancy Portrayal in the Media

*Laura Possessky (Gura and Possessky, PLLC)

Feticide Laws: At What Cost for Women?

*Sarah J. Gareau (Lenoir-Rhyne University)

Promoting the Civil Rights of Pregnant Women

*Lisa Pratt (University of the District of Columbia)


Motherhood “continually recreates the core paradox and core ambivalence that being ‘from the mother half of humanity’ poses for all women” (Blum, 1993, p. 291). Through restrictions on abortion, fetal personhood statutes, abolishment of the patient-provider relationship, and denial of birthing rights, pregnant women are one of the most marginalized groups in the U.S. Walker (1995) argues for a new space in which we acknowledge motherhood as a social identity that has provided particular women with a sense of self-worth from which to challenge various forms of oppression and, in the process, develop new strengths and capacities. The panelists will argue that this new space is emerging through the transformation of media, law, and politics. In this new space, both pro-choice and anti-choice mothers can and have found common ground — the shared belief in the health, humanity, and rights of all pregnant women.

Speaker one discusses the history of birth activism as it relates to feminism and explores the impact of political movements during the 20th century on women’s perceptions of their bodies, reproductive choices, and identities as mothers. She then turns to contemporary issues in birth activism and theorizes why feminist work to advance birth choices is largely neglected by American women. Most importantly, she addresses why many in the contemporary feminist movement distance themselves from choice as it pertains to childbirth.

Speaker two examines the portrayal of pregnancy and birth in media as a commentary of how society perceives gestation, labor and birth. Media representations of birth also send messages about how women should act, how women should be treated and what is expected of women in the early years of motherhood. These images often create unreasonable expectations and frequently drive misconceptions that women have about the experience of pregnancy and birth. She will argue that popular media images hinder a public discourse in improving maternal care and enforcing legal rights of pregnant and laboring women.

Speaker three argues that feticide laws, such as Unborn Victims of Violence Act, promoted as improving the livelihood of pregnant women, in actuality set the precedence to deny women their rights to privacy and bodily integrity by establishing the legal personhood of a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus, therefore undermining the foundation for Roe v. Wade. Similar laws have also been used to prosecute women who suffered stillbirths under fetal homicide statutes. This approach ignores the relevance of the shared maternal-fetal relationship and the importance of the pregnant woman as a person in her own right from conception to birth.

Speaker four discusses how current laws fall short of protecting the rights of pregnant women and argues the need for a new civil rights statute to codify the rights of child bearing women. The unequal power positioning between a doctor and the woman, coupled with the relatively short duration of a pregnancy, create a prime opportunity for systemic abuse. Although pregnant woman can refuse treatment, they are often unaware of their rights and fearful of retaliation for not complying. Panelist will discuss procedures forced on pregnant women, the historical violation of pregnant women’s rights, and examples of retaliatory practices against noncompliant women.


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