How to Teach About Reproductive Rights? Three Days, Four Thought-Provoking Sessions at the Berks

How can we teach our students about illegal abortion and forced sterilization? In North America, the last generation of physicians who cared for women sick and dying of septic pregnancies is dying out; Dr. Henry Morgentaler, whose challenge to abortion law ended all restrictions on abortion in Canada, passed away last year. Forced sterilization, too, is often understood as the product of a dark distant past. Yet, the issue of who can and cannot access abortion and contraceptive services, and who has the right to be a mother, persists. Knowing the historical antecedents of the current constraints on reproductive freedom is critical for teaching and political action on reproductive rights in North America, and around the world.

Four sessions address this important issue.

First, check out the provocative Friday morning panel, “Struggles over the Regulation of Reproductive Sexuality and Birth Control under Authoritarian Rule.” Agata Ignaciuk, Karina Felitti, Susanne Klausen, and Teresa Ortiz-Gomez discuss how reproductive health becomes entangled in projects of repression and explore how women and men attempted to control their reproduction in four repressive regimes: Franco’s Spain; State Socialist Poland; Argentina under military dictatorship; and South Africa under apartheid. Jean Quataert will comment, and Sanjam Ahluwalia will chair.

On Saturday, learn about “Eugenics, Sterilization, and the Politics of Memory and Reparations.” Three outstanding historians – U.S scholar Alexandra Stern, Malin Arvidsson of Sweden, and Canada’s Erika Dyck – examine how eugenic sterilization has been contextualized, commemorated, and compensated in three national contexts. “Never again,” say survivors and politicians, with the goal of raising awareness and guaranteeing non-repetition, yet the underlying idea of progress requires revision.While approaching the politics of memory and compensation from different perspectives, the three panelists agree that how the history of eugenic sterilization is understood has profound ramifications. The history of sterilization matters today: it has implications for contemporary reproductive practices, and policies around parenthood and sexuality.

Two Sunday morning sessions explore the transnational politics of abortion and the problem of the classroom. An early morning workshop, “Pregnant Bodies as Conflict Zones,” features seven pre-circulated papers on pro- and anti-abortion activism in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.

Then, for a conference finale, join historians Johanna Schoen and Judith Houck and two celebrated film-makers, Janet Goldwater and Dawn Shapiro, for a stimulating roundtable on “Exploring the History of Abortion and Sterilization through Film.” Janet Goldwater will discuss her award-winning film about illegal abortion, “Motherless: A Legacy of Loss from Illegal Abortion,” still taught in the classrooms after 20 years, and Dawn Sinclair Shapiro will talk about remarkable new film “BLINDSPOT: North Carolina’s Era of Forced Sterilization.” Film clips will be shown at the session, but both films will be screened in their entirety at 12pm and 12:30 on Saturday in the Large Screening Room, Robarts Library, 130 St. George Street, 3rd Floor.

And while you’re in Robarts Library for these films, see the exhibit: “The State in the Bedroom: The Evolution of Reproductive Rights in Canada.” (2nd floor, south portico). This exhibit highlights documents from key moments in the legislative history of reproductive rights in Canada, from the banning of contraception and abortion in 1892, to involuntary sterilization programs, to the decriminalization of birth control in 1969, to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1988 that deemed a woman’s right to choose a human right. Curated by Patricia Bellamy, Jesse Carliner, Tina Sabourin, Nicholas Worby.

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