#34 Contemporary Challenges to Black Women’s Reproductive Rights by Jeanne Flavin
April 23, 2012 § 1 Comment
In “Contemporary Challenges to Black Women’s Reproductive Rights,” Jeanne Flavin describes how the United States has sought to control the reproduction of black women. She likens this oppression to slavery, with institutionalized control over the lives of black women more than white women. One of the most blatant examples of this oppression was the forced sterilization that occurred between 1960s and 70s. At least 60,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized, and a large proportion were done on Native American, black, and Hispanic women, because they believed it would save tax payers’ money by lowering welfare costs. Because poverty is racialized, with more minorities in poverty than whites, a lot of the issues relating to welfare and government assistance disproportionately affect the lives of black families. Women on welfare or those with a history of drug or child abuse were encouraged to get Norplant, lied to about side effects, and then met resistance when trying to get it removed due to negative side effects. However, these same women would not likely get any funding for an abortion if they were to accidentally get pregnant. Furthermore, while these women may not have access to an abortion, they can be convicted for using drugs during pregnancy, even if the pregnancy was unplanned and unwanted. Other problematic policies include “family caps” and “child exclusion,” which is supposed to promote birth control use by increasing impoverishment. Foster care is also racialized with increased separation of children and parents, and the majority of children being removed because of poverty related neglect. Furthermore, incarcerated mothers typically have their parental rights terminated in order to hasten the placement process. However, women pregnant when incarcerated may not be able to get an abortion, even though the child will be taken from her. In the forcible removal of children, the policies focus on illegal drugs, and drugs more commonly used among minorities such as crack over things like alcohol.
When Flavin likened the current condition of black women’s reproductive rights to slavery, at first I was extremely skeptical. After reading the article, however, it is clear just how racialized these controls are over reproduction. From forced sterilization, family caps and termination of parental rights, minorities are more likely to experience control over their families and reproduction. What is interesting about the policies at hand is they focus on controlling the lives of those in poverty, but do not attempt to change the racial aspect of poverty. Rather than bring lower income families out of poverty, the policies seem to punish them for being poor. But I am curious what others have to say on this topic, is this similar to slavery? Are these policies punishing and controlling minority women more than others? How does this reflect our own racial prejudice and stereotype of welfare mothers?