Suffrage Series Tackles Reproductive Autonomy, Medical History


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Woman Right, wrongs, privileges 1869To mark the centennial of suffrages in New York State the New York Academy of Medicine Library in partnership with the Museum of the City of New York is presenting a free, three-part talk series that examines key battles over women’s ability to control their bodies, health choices, and fertility. The series is supported by a grant from Humanities New York.

“Who Controls Women’s Health?: A Century of Struggle” will examine the struggles over women’s reproductive rights and health as one facet in larger fights for social reform by and for women. The series provides a humanistic lens on the Academy’s historical and current work around the social determinants of health, disparities in health access and provision, and prevention.

Each lecture will speak to an aspect of the intertwined debates and conflicts over issues including birth control and contraception; the professionalization of women’s medicine and changing role of the hospital in birth; the criminalization of abortion; maternal and infant health as a medical specialty; access to reproductive health services; policing women’s reproduction; and activism around women’s health.

The series will begin with the experience of women past and present giving birth in the city, whether within or outside the NYC hospital system. Journalist Randi Epstein, M.D. author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank will examine the politics of birthing in the city on August 22, particularly focusing on legislation around who made critical decisions about how and where women gave birth. Maternal mortality – the death of a mother during childbirth or soon after labor and delivery – is an ongoing issue in the United States, which ranks 50th in the world in preventing maternal mortality. New York State is 47th out of 50 states in preventing maternal deaths and disparities among women are huge, are widening, with Asian and Black women disproportionately likely to die within a year of childbirth. The Academy has a long history of involvement with improving maternal and infant mortality, and Dr. Epstein will be joined by Peter Schafer, Academy Deputy Director of Family Health and Disparities.

Next, a discussion will be held exploring the often fraught history of women’s access to birth control and knowledge about reproduction with Faye Wattleton on September 13, activist and not-for profit leader who was president of Planned Parenthood from 1978 to 1992. Wattleton originally trained in nursing and midwifery, and was the first female head of Planned Parenthood since its founding in 1916 by Margaret Sanger, and is author of Life on the Line describing her experiences as head of the organization. Ms. Wattleton will address the role of Planned Parenthood in debates over sex education, contraception, and abortion. Marcela Micucci, MCNY Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, will act as respondent.

Finally, Jennifer Nelson, Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, University of Redlands and author of More Than Medicine: A History of the Feminist Women’s Health Movement (NYU Press, 2015) will explore how social movements treated women’s health and well-being beyond medical care of the individual body and as part of larger social questions on October 5. This final lecture will place the struggles for women’s health in the context of the Civil Rights, New Left and Women’s Liberation movements and explore how the needs of people of color, the poor and women intersected and challenged mainstream medical practice and health policy. The Academy has invited Dr. Hilda Hutcherson M.D. as respondent for this lecture. Dr. Hutcherson is the co-director of the New York Center for Women’s Sexual Health and Senior Associate Dean for Diversity at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Scheduled Talks as follows:

8/22 Get Me Out: Childbirth in Early 20th Century NYC, from 6:30 to 8 pm at The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 5th Avenue at 103rd Street, with speaker Randi Hutter Epstein.

9/13 On the Front Lines of Reproductive Rights, from 6:30 to 8 pm at The Museum of the City of New York, 1220 5th Avenue at 104th Street, with speaker Faye Wattleton.

10/5 – More Than Medicine: Social Justice and Feminist Movements for Health, from 6:30 to 8 pm at The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 5th Avenue at 103rd Street, with speaker Jennifer Nelson.

For more information, click here.

Photo: Woman Right, wrongs, privileges by LP Brockett, 1869.

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