Roberts, professor of law and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, delivered the Periclean Scholars guest lecture Thursday night at Whitley Auditorium.
In June, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision with its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, reversing the reproductive freedom granted with Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Despite how devastating the decision was for human rights, Periclean Scholars guest speaker Dorothy Roberts begs the question: Did we have real reproductive freedom in America before the Dobbs decision?
“One way to look at it is to think about the extent of reproductive freedom we had at the time Roe was decided and subsequent decisions,” said Roberts, a Penn Integrates Knowledge professor and professor of law and Sociology from George A. Weiss University at the University of Pennsylvania, to those who gathered in Whitley Auditorium on October 20 for his lecture, “From Reproductive Choice to Reproductive Justice.”
Roberts, author of “Killing the Black Body” and “Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families and How Abolition Can Build a Safe World”, cited Harris v. McRae, which ruled that Medicaid participating states aren’t required to fund medically necessary abortions, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, who decided that states could deliberately put obstacles in the way of people seeking to terminate a pregnancy as long as it was not an undue burden.
In the immediate aftermath of this latest ruling, states across the country wasted no time in putting up these barriers, preventing people from exercising what should have been a constitutional right. “Hundreds of laws have been passed, many of which have been passed in recent years, that were very restrictive,” Roberts said. “Is it real freedom if states can pass laws to deliberately prevent you from exercising your right? Usually, we think that if we have a right, that means our government officials shouldn’t be able to stop us from exercising it. But it was different in this type of law.
More broadly, Roberts explained how throughout American history there has been a lack of true reproductive freedom. From the reproductive servitude of black women during slavery to the forced sterilization during the 19th and 20th centuries that still occurs today, at no time have all women in America had complete control over their bodies.
Roberts said there are many bias policies in the United States based on the idea that black women’s fertility is a biological threat to their children, their communities and the nation. Despicable stereotypes and derogatory terms, such as “feel good queen” or “cracked babies” – which research has consistently discredited as mere myth – have been pushed by many major news outlets and led to the implemented many harmful policies, including the prosecution of pregnant women. Black women who used drugs and the end of federal welfare law.
Referencing editorials from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Houston Post, Roberts illustrated how many people thought black children were going to be biologically disadvantaged by their mothers. “This author [of the Houston Post editorial] does not say that this biological underclass is caused by structural racism. They say this biological underclass of black children is caused by their mothers,” she said.
“Half of black children in America are born into poverty. A shameful figure that the nation should be ashamed of,” she continued. “But instead they say, ‘Well, it’s not the fault of the inequality in our country. It’s because their mothers have too many babies.
Roberts argued that to overcome these injustices, we need to think about them not only through a humanist lens but also through an abolitionist lens. Asking what we need to change and what we need to build is the starting point for having a society where true freedom can be a reality and not just a theory.
“If we think about how to join the movements for social change – the movement for family justice, for the abolition of prisons, for reproductive justice, for economic justice, for environmental justice – all of this is essential to build a society where people can truly have autonomy over their lives. body,” she said. “Truly thrive in our society without the kinds of policies and images that devalue anyone’s ability to have children.”
The Periclean Scholar Invited Lecture is the result of the work of the Periclean Scholars Class of 2024. This cohort of Periclean scholars focused on promoting anti-racism initiatives and were interested in bringing Roberts to Elon for his work on equity in reproductive justice. To that end, they wrote an Excellence Fund grant and collected sponsorships, said Vanessa Drew-Branch, faculty mentor for the Scholars. “They’re not interested in fairness for fairness, they’re trying to make a difference on campus, in Alamance County and eventually in Morocco once we start working there.”
Pericles Project Director Mat Gendle said this cohort of scholars actively reached out to various groups and organizations to make the event possible to further the mission of the Pericles Project.
“The overall mission is to help our students learn to do ethical, appropriate, and impactful community work with community partners. And I think having Dr. Roberts come to Elon supports the broader mission of the Class of 2024,” Gendle said, “to try to engender and increase the constructive conversation on our campus about what the Against racism.
The Periclean Scholar guest lecture was part of the Elon University Speaker Series, presented by North Carolina public radio WUNC. This year’s lecture series explores the theme “Living well in a changing world”.