Civil rights are those basic rights needed in order to participate in the political life of a civil society. In the U.S., these rights are set out in the Constitution and its Amendments. In this country, most people are familiar with the term “civil rights” because of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which was centered on rights for black Americans. Unfortunately, civil rights are still not guaranteed for all people in this country. Pregnant women are particularly victimized.
The New York Times published an Op-Ed on pregnancy and civil rights this weekend. It makes some excellent points. Most important among them: The authors have identified 793 cases in which a pregnant woman was denied her physical liberty. This is, I hope, shocking enough for most readers. But here’s the really incredible part. The scope of this study (part of which was published as a peer-reviewed article last year) includes cases back to 1973 (when Roe v. Wade came down). But 380 of those cases–48% of them!–happened since 2005. In other words, the United States is increasingly, and at a truly alarming rate, denying basic civil rights to pregnant women.
This shouldn’t be a surprise in the wake of an election in which multiple embryonic and fetal personhood measures were on statewide ballots. But, somehow, it’s still getting very little attention. Some of the cases Paltrow and Flavin (the authors of the Op-Ed mentioned above) raise are clearly intended to remedy this:
- A woman arrested on murder charges for the “crime” of having a miscarriage. (Louisiana)
A woman taken prisoner and forced to undergo a Cesarean, for the “crime” of having a miscarriage. (Florida)
A woman forced by a judge to undergo an early Cesarean that ultimately killed her and the 26-week fetus she was carrying. (Washington DC)
These are sensational cases where the actions of the state upon a particular woman are pretty clearly wrong, regardless of political leaning. I understand Paltrow and Flavin’s rationale for focusing on these cases–they’re persuasive, and they focus on physical liberty. These authors had to limit their scope somehow; this is not a critique of them or their work. However, I’m nervous about this message because it leaves a lot of things out of the conversation. It leaves a full discussion of the civil rights of pregnant women unsaid. Physical liberty is important, yes. But pregnant women–like other human beings–also have a right to basic safety. They have a right to life, liberty, privacy, protection from discrimination, freedom of thought, freedom of expression.
And there are a lot more than 793 women since 1973 who’ve had their civil rights infringed–trampled!–if we consider the full spectrum of rights that we offer to other humans. Somebody should be talking about this.
The 1997 text Women’s Health Research: A Medical and Policy Primerheralds women’s health research as a “new discipline” (p. 7), which I find both frightening and fascinating. Some diseases (osteoporosis, various thyroid conditions, affective disorders, just for a few examples) affect women in greater numbers than men, but studies do not reflect this. This is largely because women’s health has historically been conflated with reproductive health—as though the only part of a woman that is different from a man or important at all is her reproductive system. This conflation is both maddening and difficult to advocate against (for fear of diminishing the real importance of women’s reproductive health).
However, Paula Johnson does a decent job:
Click here to view this talk on TED’s page: http://www.ted.com/talks/paula_johnson_his_and_hers_healthcare
Further food for thought: Johnson and Fee (contributors to Women’s Health Research) point out that “Women have been excluded from health research for decades” despite policy statements that attempt to remedy this (p. 3). One reason women have been left out of research studies because of “researchers’ desire for homogeneous study populations … Women’s cyclical hormonal changes were thought to confound research results” (p. 14).
Haseltine, Florence, Lynne Beauregard, & Beverly Jacobson. (1997). Women’s Health Research: A Medical and Policy Primer. Washington, DC: Health International.
Sent to me by a friend and way too cool not to re-post:
Infographic depicting how social media are used during/after disasters
“Rendering oppression visible makes it available for intervention and change” — Virginia Eubanks, Digital Dead End, p. 28
As I sat reading Digital Dead End earlier this week, I overheard a conversation between some of my friends who were in the same room. They were discussing the availability of keyboards, “mouses,” and other hardware at a local charity. I listened purposefully, then, as the conversation turned toward the lack of available software. My friends did not discuss the lack of available training, although I know that is an issue for the many people with economic struggles in my area. And that, in essence, was the most important concept I took away from this text: Distribution is not the problem as far as ensuring access to technology. The much larger problem is how we think about technology in combination with social justice. Eubanks alleges that “continued emphasis on the development of science and technology as the route to greater prosperity and equality for all American is a familiar but dangerously underexamined species of magical thinking” (p. xv). In other words, if we are to work toward social justice as digital rhetoricians and technology scholars, we must work toward structural change–and this includes changes in our ways of thinking about technology, what it does, and what constitutes “access.”
Some time ago, I attended a talk by Chandra Mohanty in which she mentioned that cosmopolitanism–and traveling, specifically–is a lifestyle that occurs at the expense of marginalized people who are incarcerated, or held in place, in order to make the system work. (Think, for example, of the many essays that have been written about the post-Katrina tourist scene in New Orleans, where locals work in festive restaurants and go home to slums. Or, where bus companies provide “Katrina tours.” See In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina for more.)
My initial reaction was resistance. I love to travel! My secondary reaction was resignation: Of course I’m resistant to changing this construction since I’m privileged. Now, months later, I’m trying to take a more nuanced perspective …
I’m very excited that an article a long time in the works has just been published in TCQ! Read “Transcultural Risk Communication on Dauphin Island: An Analysis of Ironically Located Responses to the Deepwater Horizon Disaster” here: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/X8YWCwC3gSIvjmATCxiJ/full