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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

WSRC scholars and students discuss reproductive rights

Published: March 21, 2014
Section: News

On March 12, scholars from the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC) and students gathered in Liberman Miller Lecture Hall to watch the short film “Roe at Risk: Fighting for Reproductive Justice.” Dr. Shulamit Reinharz, the founder and director of the WSRC, and Dr. Paula Doress-Worters, a scholar from the WSRC, were among the key speakers. After the film, audience members engaged in a discussion on reproductive rights and threats to the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion in the United States in 1973.

Students in the audience were mostly members of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) and NARAL, a pro-abortion organization. They were introduced to the scholars, who asked how the students came to be interested in the issue of reproductive rights.

Once everyone had settled in, the scholars were asked to stand up. Dr. Helen A. Berger, a resident scholar who studies witches and pagans, sat on a table adjacent to the chairs and said, “[The scholars] are sitting up front because they’re older than you and want to hear.”

Many of the scholars were among the founders of feminism’s second-wave, and their children are old enough to be the parents of this generation’s college students.

“It is disheartening for us to realize that you have to re-wage the fight for reproductive freedom that is tonight’s topic,” said Reinharz. “But it is heartening, on the other hand, to know that you are here—we know you are willing to learn from us, but you should also know that we are equally eager to learn from you.”

She stressed that Roe v. Wade, as momentous as it was, is a temporary achievement. The history of women indicates that female successes must be achieved again and again. Doress-Worters, a “lifetime activist” who was involved in the publication of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” a book on women’s health issues a panelist called “the feminist left’s most valuable contribution to social change,” took her place in front of the screen.

“It’s always a pleasure to put on my ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ hat,” Doress-Worters said. Written around the same time as the passage of Roe v. Wade, the book espoused the core belief that control over her body is central to control over a woman’s life. “Reproductive rights encompass freedom of choice of sexual partners, preference, procedures,” she said.

The film itself covered the challenges of maintaining an abortion clinic in the conservative South. Less than 20 minutes in length, it was followed by group discussions, conversations called “consciousness raising, an extraordinary experience where you learn about others and yourself through trust-building exercises.”

Students and scholars joined groups, participating in a “deep listening” period that lasted about two minutes and then giving feedback. A sheet was handed out with suggested discussion questions, but most groups preferred to speak about their own experiences with abortion. Many of the students spoke of mothers who, before having them, had terminated their pregnancies and were deeply ashamed. Some of the scholars spoke frankly of abortions that they had themselves, illegally and without anesthesia, before the passage of Roe v. Wade.

“We couldn’t make noise, and we didn’t,” said one scholar.

After a half hour, everyone returned to the lecture hall for a debriefing on practical measures that could be taken in the fight for reproductive justice. The floor was open to both students and scholars. However, most of the audience members preferred to let the women with many more years of life experience speak their piece.

The issue was brought up in the discussion that anti-sexual violence initiatives on college campuses had taken the spot of reproductive freedom as the most championed cause, a fact that belied the need, as the scholars saw it, to shift the dialogue. “After all,” said a scholar, “what could be more violent than forcing women to have babies?”