The intersection of rights in Harris v. Quinn

via CT News Junkie, which reports that “Republican lawmakers and advocates for disabled people called upon the state Tuesday to halt plans to collect union fees from home health care workers” following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn. In that decision, the SCOTUS “found that home health care workers in Illinois paid through Medicaid can not be forced to pay fees to the union representing them.”

One of the advocates mentioned above is Manchester resident Cathy Ludlum, who has spinal muscular atrophy and employs personal care assistants.  Ludlow and other opponents of Connecticut’s health-care workers’ union “called upon the state to stop plans to begin collecting union dues and what is called ‘agency fees’ from workers who chose not to join the union but have nonetheless been represented by it in collective bargaining negotiations. ‘Were this not to happen yesterday, union dues and agency fees would start coming out of my employees’ paychecks,’” said Ludlum. “’What we are asking for, to answer your question, is [the application of union fees] be rescinded immediately so that they don’t take that hit starting in two weeks.’”

Other aspects of Ludlum’s advocacy have much in common with other disability rights activists:  she has written for the disability rights blog Not Dead Yet and been a vocal opponent of efforts to pass a “right to die” law in the state of Connecticut.  In a 2010 article in the Hartford Courant, Ludlum told reporters that she believed “misconceptions about people with severe disabilities can lead medical workers to give them less aggressive lifesaving options. Doctors might think they would not want to live if they were in the patient’s condition and assume the patient feels the same, she said. Or medical workers might see a disability as a fatal condition, even if it is not.” These observations made her “wary of an effort in Connecticut to let terminally ill patients end their lives through medication prescribed by doctors. . . The concept — giving people in pain control over their dying processes — may sound sympathetic, Ludlum said. But she and other advocates fear the reality will be more complex, and could leave people who have severe disabilities vulnerable. They worry about the law being misapplied — for example, if a person with a disability asks for help dying but is not terminally ill — and about the ideas such a policy would foster about the worthiness of a life lived with diminished capacity.”

On a website for disabled persons looking to hire home care workers, Ludlum has said, “The whole world opened up for me when I started hiring personal care assistants. Without their commitment and support, I could not have an active and independent life.” For Ludlum, “it became especially important that I hire personal care assistants who were reliable, and who would enjoy being part of my life. People who thought of it simply as a “job” usually moved on after a year or two. But those who really understood the importance of what they were doing often stayed five years or more. Some even became lifelong friends.”

Ludlum’s story is linked to that of her personal care assistant, Debbie Barisano, who says:

“For twenty-five years I worked in a high paying job as a computer programmer, but I was not happy. The job was very stressful and I was sick a lot. I had volunteered for two organizations working with people with disabilities, and I wanted to find a job in that area where I would be happy going to work every day. I decided to enroll at Manchester (CT) Community College in the Disability Specialist Program. One day Cathy, a woman with a severe physical disability, came to my class and spoke about her life. She mentioned that she needed a personal care assistant. I was interested, but at the same time I was scared. I had never done anything like that. I waited a month before calling Cathy, but I found out the first night that there was no reason to be nervous. She explained everything and I fell in love with the job. I have worked for Cathy since 1999, and I have loved going into work every day. In my first two years, I had only had two sick days, and I stopped needing some medications since I became a personal care assistant. I have had to make some sacrifices in order to work full time as a personal care assistant. I moved into a smaller place in affordable housing, and I do not have extra spending money any more. I also do not have any health benefits. But I would not trade my new profession for the extra money.”

Unfortunately, not all workers are able to make these kinds of sacrifices.  Both Ludlum and Barisano have opposed efforts to unionize home health care workers.  In 2012, Ludlum was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think-tank that “advocates for free market, limited government public policy solutions in Connecticut.” The lawsuit contended that Ludlow was “eligible for state subsidies that pay for her care through a Medicaid waiver,” and thus “she is an independent employer. She has the right to enter contracts with people who take care of her, and to negotiate benefits like vacation time and workers compensation, without any interference from a union. Similarly, just because PCAs receive a state subsidy for taking care of our most vulnerable neighbors like Cathy does not make them state employees. They are independent contractors and SEIU does not have a right to siphon off union dues from their pay.”

In other words, the Yankee Institute lawsuit contended that laws that created ways for home health care workers to join in collective bargaining trampled on the rights of disabled persons and the “right to work.”

Barisano also spoke against these laws.  In her testimony, Barisano called attention to the “unique relationship” between a personal care assistant and a person with a disability, likening this relationship that of a “family.” Barisano argued that the union “forcing itself” between the personal care assistant and the person with a disability would “ruin this relationship.”

This is very similar to the argument in Harris v. Quinn, except in this case it was an actual family member taking care of a person with a disability.  The lead plaintiff in that case, Pam Harris, said one reason she went to battle with the Illinois chapter of SEIU is that “I don’t want anyone to get between me and caring for my son.”

To those of us who study women’s history, these stories are very familiar.  Historically, nursing and personal care was done by female family members within the home.  Even after the profession of nursing left the physical confines of the home, and nurses started to form unions, the expectation that nursing was a “noble” profession that required exceptional levels of dedication and self-sacrifice persisted.  At the same time, the notion that these jobs were “women’s work” that were merely extensions of women’s traditional domestic responsibilities meant that they were historically undervalued and underpaid.

Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein observe in an article in the Nation that these problems were especially true of domestic jobs held by immigrant women and women of color. They contend that the Harris decision “colludes in their misidentification as “just moms” and mischaracterizes the origins of home care work as an alternative to welfare for unemployed black domestic workers and other poor women. With a newly invented category of “partial public employee,” Alito denies women working in the home the same rights as other employees, returning unionized personal attendants to the status of household workers still excluded from the National Labor Relations Act. ” In addition,  “by dismissing the decades-long struggle of African American and immigrant women for recognition as workers, Harris reduces a state regulated labor market to individualized acts of love and obligation, furthering the agenda of well-funded anti-union forces.”

Not all home health workers share Barisano’s vision of sacrifice: rather, they welcome the ‘intrusion” of the union because it improves their wages and working conditions. Terrell Williams, one of the home health care workers who organized to become part of Connecticut’s SEIU District 1199, told CT News Junkie that “’I see being part of a union as a privilege. Home care workers put a lot of work in to form this union so we can have a voice and the issues that are important to us are heard. We are on the work sites every day, not elected officials, and we have the right to decide what is best for us and the people we care for.’”

In his column for the SCOTUS blog, Samuel Bagenstos points out that many disability rights activists supported the rights of their personal care assistants to collectively bargain:

Illinois’s system, like the systems in others states that have adopted consumer direction, gave the state the power to set workforce-wide terms and conditions of employment (like wages and benefits), while reserving day-to-day supervision and the choice of personal assistant to the individual beneficiaries with disabilities themselves. By allowing personal assistants to select a union to collectively bargain with the state on those workforce-wide terms and conditions, Illinois gave those workers the tools to negotiate higher wages and more ample benefits.  And this, in turn, helped to stabilize a personal-assistant workforce that had been marked by high turnover.  That is why many organizations of people with disabilities in Illinois and other states with similar collective-bargaining regimes signed on to a brief I filed in Harris in support of those regimes.”

In short, union rights, women’s rights, and the rights of persons with disabilities are intertwined. The Harris decision is not only a problem for organized labor and the rights of working women, it also threatens the independence of persons with disabilities.  It’s too bad Cathy Ludlow can’t see that.

 

Review of Leslie Reagan, Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America

via H-Disability

Leslie J. Reagan. Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. xv + 372 pp. $27.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-520-25903-4.

Reviewed by Heather Munro Prescott (Central Connecticut State University)
Published on H-Disability (March, 2012)
Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison

Prescott on Reagan

This book continues the compelling story of the history of abortion in the United States that Reagan began in her award-winning book, When Abortion Was a Crime (1998). The title Dangerous Pregnancies refers not to pregnancies that were dangerous to the lives or health of mothers, but to the “dangers” to home, family, and society posed by the birth of “defective” babies. Focusing on the responses to the German measles epidemic in the United States during the early 1960s, Reagan shows how fears of disability helped lend legitimacy to the abortion rights movement.

Reagan goes beyond her earlier work by linking the history of reproductive rights to two other fields of scholarship: the history of epidemics and infectious disease; and the history of representations of people with disabilities. She shows that in marked contrast to earlier epidemics, the German measles outbreak did not single out nonwhite or other stigmatized groups as sources of infection. Nevertheless, race was at the center of media representations of the disease. Responses to the epidemic highlighted how the birth of a disabled child wrecked havoc on the status of white, middle-class, heterosexual, nuclear families. The epidemic came closely after alarming reports about severe birth defects in infants born to women who had taken the sleeping pill thalidomide while pregnant. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not approved the drug, some American women were able to obtain the drug from overseas. The story of Sherri Finkbine’s efforts to obtain an abortion after she discovered she had taken thalidomide while pregnant with her fifth child, helped transform attitudes towards abortion in the United States. During the pronatalist 1940s and 1950s, media coverage emphasized the deviant nature of abortion and of the women who sought these procedures. Finkbine’s story, along with that of other white, middle-class mothers who had contracted German measles while pregnant, transformed the image of abortion “from a shameful, thoughtless, and sick action to an ethical and responsible one” that protected families from the “burden” of raising a severely disabled child (p. 104).

Despite these changing attitudes towards abortion, significant barriers remained even for those who sought to terminate “dangerous pregnancies.” Reagan contrasts the cases of Barbara Stewart and Sandra Gleitman, who with their husbands filed “wrongful birth” cases against the hospitals that refused to provide abortions after the women had been exposed to German measles while pregnant. Both cases showed that hospital abortion committees were fickle and arbitrary. For the Stewarts, an African American couple, race posed an additional hurdle. While they had private health insurance, racial discrimination denied them access to physicians who had connections to hospital abortion review committees. By demonstrating the central role that race played in these deliberations, Reagan answers Chris Bell’s suggestion that disability studies scholars need to pay more attention to the experiences of “people of color.”

Reagan is less successful in showing how the German measles epidemic contributed to the emerging disability rights movement. She describes the work of “rubella parents”–most of whom were white and middle class–who fought for and won the right to public education for children with physical, sensory, and intellectual impairments. These parents were successful largely because rubella and its effects were not confined to the poor or to “people of color,” and because their arguments focused on the core middle-class value of access to education. Reagan also periodically mentions persons with congenital rubella syndrome and other disabilities, including those who objected to the “humane” and “merciful” reforms that made it easier for women to abort fetuses with birth defects. Reagan claims that even the suits filed by the Stewarts and Gleitmans reflected an aspect of this rights movement, since their aim was to get resources for their children. Yet Reagan underestimates the countervailing power of terms like “therapeutic abortion” and “wrongful birth” to reinforce prevailing beliefs that disability is a fate worse than death. Rubella immunization campaigns weakened the disability rights perspective even further. They used sentimental images of “pathetic” rubella children and played into popular notions of disability as a “tragedy” that could be prevented through universal vaccination against German measles.

Reagan shows how the rhetoric about “dangerous pregnancies” backfired during the 1980s and 1990s. Opponents of vaccination have seized on these same fears by alleging that vaccines cause autism, and that by refusing to vaccinate their children, they are saving themselves from the “heartbreak” of raising a disabled child. The discovery of fetal alcohol syndrome and other defects caused by environmental factors “erased” the history of women fighting for accurate information about potential threats to their babies and the right to abort “defective babies.” Public health campaigns by the March of Dimes and other organizations recast pregnant women themselves as risks to the unborn. Reagan rightly concludes that German measles acted as a “crucible for change” by prompting dialogue about reproductive rights, civil rights, and disability rights, but this change was incomplete. Abortion rights are increasingly under assault, and stigmatizing language about disability and misconceptions about persons with disabilities remain with us today.

If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.

Citation: Heather Munro Prescott. Review of Reagan, Leslie J., Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America. H-Disability, H-Net Reviews. March, 2012.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=33916

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

More Viral Politics: Teaching Students with Autism is Not Much Different than Teaching the Neurotypical

via Tenured Radical, who kvetches about the problems of teaching students with autism. I was shocked to see that someone as intelligent as TR repeated erroneous claims about autism and vaccines (see the CDC website for accurate information).  What was even more disturbing, though, was her rather dismissive attitude towards students with autism.  From the main article:

“What seems not debatable is that our sense of fairness, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is way ahead of any conversation about what it will mean for young people who need a great deal of support to realize their human potential to attend college.  It seems certain is that increasing numbers of children on the autism spectrum — many of whom have unusual abilities — will go to college. As USA Today reported three years ago, they are already in our classrooms.  This is happening in a context in which there is little to no attention being paid to giving full-time faculty the training to teach students who have a wide range of capacities when it comes to what counts for normal classroom discipline:  sitting still for an hour and taking notes, being in crowded rooms where they risk being bumped and touched, overcoming obsessive behavior to get to class or hand in a paper on time, working in small groups with other students, or being in large classes with crowds of strangers.  It is also happening in a context in which being full-time faculty is becoming anomalous, and the financial “flexibility” of running higher education on per-course labor makes it unlikely that the vast majority of faculty will be eligible, or open to making unpaid time available, for the training that would make their classrooms accessible to autistic students. The challenges are somewhat different from the vast category of “learning disabilities” for which responsible colleges and universities provide learning centers to provide the support that makes what we euphemistically call “accommodation” useful.”

First, I’ll say that I’ve had several students with Asperger’s (aka Aspies) in my classes.  In general, they have been among the best students I’ve had.  In my experience the “obsessiveness” means that Aspies are more diligent about understanding assignments and meeting deadlines.  Yes some like to hog the conversation, but so do quite a few neurotypical students.  I’ve had plenty of neurotypicals fail to pay attention, sit still, or hand work in on time.

In the comments section, Elizabeth Switaj wrote:

“Yes, training and having the time to implement training is important, but if faculty are going to learn to support autistic students, a good first step would be to listen to autistic undergraduates themselves and to put the needs they express first instead of responding primarily to the perspective of the neurotypical parents of autistic children. The perspective of autistic undergraduates, which seems to me to be the most important on the subject, is entirely missing from this post.

One of the fundamental tenets of the disability rights movement is “nothing about us without us”–and this is no less important when it comes to autistic people (and I’m sorry but a single secondhand statement from an unnamed teenager really isn’t sufficient).”

I couldn’t say this better myself.  Unfortunately, TR didn’t get it. She said, ” And back to the “nothing without us” principle of political organizing: it’s incredibly attractive, ethical and powerful. But although bringing disabled people together as an identity group is important in terms of theory and social movement, there should be concern about the similarity that mandates, and silencing, within the group, in the name of empowerment for all. This is the lesson of other social movements. ASD children *can’t* speak for themselves, mostly because they are children, but for other reasons too. Without a movement largely driven by parents up to this point, which may evolve as ASD kids come together as adults in future decades, there would be no attention to this issue at all, vaccinations or no vaccinations.”

First, those of us in history of childhood and youth have pointed out time and time again that children CAN speak for themselves and we as adults should listen  More importantly, there IS an autism rights movement led by and for persons with autism.   Seriously, would TR have said that GLBT children and youth need parents to speak for them?  I doubt it.  So why not acknowledge the rights of persons with autism to speak and organize for themselves?

Invigorated and Exhausted from American Association for the History of Medicine meeting

I got back from the annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine meeting yesterday as as usual am bursting with ideas and buried in work.  So, this will be quickie overview with more reflection and analysis at a later date.

First, I’d like to report that my forthcoming book  (cover photo at left) is moving much closer to actually being out.  I received the page proofs about a week ago and am working on getting them back ASAP.  Unfortunately the editor decided not to have them available at the meeting because they aren’t corrected — but there’s always next year.  Hopefully they will be available at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians next month.

Meanwhile, I got an opportunity to plug my book and establish myself as an authority on the “morning after pill” in an interview for a documentary by Caryn Hunt, President of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women.  It was a lot of fun and I wasn’t as nervous as I expected.  Also, I got a new suggestion for a doppelganger. Thanks,  I agree!

My presentation on The Pill at 50: Scientific Commemoration and the Politics of American Memory went very well and I had a substantial audience (at least 30) despite it being on first thing on the last day of the conference.  The reaction was enthusiastic (especially from this leading authority on the history of the Pill) so I’m planning to expand this and submit it to the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

Since I’m teaching in a public history graduate program, and living in Connecticut, my “commemorative mania” will continue with some kind of commemorative event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 (which follows soon after my own half-century mark).  Not sure what this will be but the folks at Yale and Planned Parenthood are keen so looks like it will happen.  I also told the editor at Rutgers that I’m interested in doing a narrative history (as opposed to a legal history that uses Griswold as a lead-up to Roe v. Wade rather than an event in it’s own right).  As it turns out, a very distinguished senior historian of medicine and public health was one of the witnesses who testified.  It seems that the New Haven police was willing to shut down the clinic so that birth control advocates in the state could use this as a test case, but they needed evidence that the clinic was dispensing birth control.  This historian was a graduate student at Yale and was one of Dr. Buxton’s patients.  She volunteered to get the evidence (a tube of contraceptive jelly) and then went straight to the police department to turn in the incriminating evidence and give a statement.  When she blurted out that contraception was “women’s right”, the Irish cop asked her, “don’t you mean a married woman’s right?” What a story!

I heard lots a great papers and connect with all my history of medicine buddies.  However, work awaits so I’ll have to continue these conference report later (most likely much later since research papers and finals will be landing on my desk shortly).

Back from AHA, report on Task Force on Disability and Paul Longmore Tribute

I’m back from the annual meeting American Historical Association and am going to split my reporting into several parts.  I’ll start with the main reason I attended, which was to represent the Disability History Association at the Open Forum on Disability and Tribute to the work of Paul Longmore on Friday afternoon.  When I first arrived at the session, the room had a bunch of press people taking pictures of the Task force on disability members and frantically moving around equipment.  I thought, wow, this must mean that disability history has arrived.  Awesome!

Wrong:  the press were left over from the previous roundtable on Beverly Gage’s book, The Day Wallstreet Exploded, and the frenzy was to get the sound equipment and cables out of the way so that Michael Rembis could navigate his wheelchair to the table at the front of the room.  Hopefully the pictures the press folks took will appear somewhere along with a report on the Task force, and not just be presented to them as souvenirs!

Seriously, what better way to illustrate Michael’s personal accounts of how degrading, exhausting, and humiliating it is to continually have to ask for accommodations  so that he can do what others take for granted.  For example, Michael couldn’t reach any of the public computers set up in the Hynes convention center because they were on tables too high for him to reach.  I didn’t ask him what he thought about the conference venue — presumable having the various session locations connected by the Prudential center shopping mall was better than trying to navigate the snowy streets of Boston.

The overall results of the Task force’s survey indicate a major disconnect between what chairs/administrators report (i.e. most cases involving disability are resolved satisfactorily), and reports from persons with disabilities, who state that its up to them to make requests and continually badger their HR departments and other powers that be to get those requests honored.  Those who are adjuncts or untenured are reluctant to ask or if they do fear making too many waves by persisting in getting these requests fulfilled.  Michael summed this up by persuasively observing that the notion of “reasonable accommodation” perpetuates the stigmatized, medicalized, individualized model of disability that those of us in disability history have been fighting to eliminate.  Right on!  I’ll wait until the full report comes out before I comment on this further.

Other issues that were discussed included a mentorship program matching graduate students/junior faculty with senior faculty with disabilities; ongoing efforts to get AHA to validate disability history as a legitimate field of study; and how to recruits panels and papers on disability history for the next AHA meeting in 2012.  I made a plug for folks to join DHA (somewhat awkwardly because I didn’t have the forethought to bring promotional materials with me.)

The tribute to the late Paul Longmore was incredibly moving — I will try to get a PDF of the testimonials that were read.  He will be sorely missed.

Speaking of stigma– it disgusts me  how quickly even liberal bloggers are using ableist words like “nutcase” and “whacko” to describe the man who shot Congresswoman Giffords and others at a public event in Arizona yesterday.  [even more moderate terms like "these people" are demoralizing because they peg persons with mental illness as socially deviant "others" ]  According to vaughanbell at Mind Hacks.

I suspect we’re going to hear a great deal more about the issue in the coming weeks, and not all of it positive or well-informed.

This article looks at some of the relevant scientific evidence and some of the misconceptions that invariably arise when such tragic circumstances make headlines.

Shortly after Jared Lee Loughner had been identified as the alleged shooter of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, online sleuths turned up pages of rambling text and videos he had created. A wave of amateur diagnoses soon followed, most of which concluded that Loughner was not so much a political extremist as a man suffering from “paranoid schizophrenia.”

For many, the investigation will stop there. No need to explore personal motives, out-of-control grievances or distorted political anger. The mere mention of mental illness is explanation enough. This presumed link between psychiatric disorders and violence has become so entrenched in the public consciousness that the entire weight of the medical evidence is unable to shift it. Severe mental illness, on its own, is not an explanation for violence, but don’t expect to hear that from the media in the coming weeks.”

Here’s a Link to the longer  Slate article ‘Crazy Talk’.

Book is done, off to AHA

Well, the book manuscript is finally done, printed (despite a broken department printer — found one in another department) and sent off to the publisher.  Now I’m gearing up for the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Boston, which starts tomorrow.  I don’t often attend this meeting  — it’s an inconvenient time of year, I prefer smaller conferences, etc.  — but the chance to meet other digital history folks (aka twitterstorians) had me enthusiastic.  One of them is even more enthusiastic — see this post at the blog Notes from the Field — and I’m looking forward to meeting her and others in person.

I’m also one of the few executive board members of the Disability History Association who can attend the meeting.  So, I’ll be there representing.  If you’re interested in this area, please do come to the Task Force on Disability and  open forum and tribute to the late, great Paul Longmore on Friday afternoon.

As always, I’ll will be knitting during sessions (and in between). Please don’t take offense — it’s better than texting!

If you can’t make the meeting, you can follow some of it on Twitter using #AHA2011.

P.S.  Tenured Radical has a guide to recommended sessions here.  Also see her ongoing series on job interviews.

History of Health Activism Conference at Yale

Here is a Yale Daily News report on the conference, “Health Activism in the 20th century,” that I participated in at Yale last weekend.  (minor correction — MADD stands for Mothers Against Drunk Driving!)  As the reporter was only there for Saturday (bright and early at 8:30am!) and I was the first presenter, he didn’t get a chance to observe my brilliant presentation, Creating a Middle Ground: Feminist Health Activists and Emergency Contraception in the United States, 1970-2000! (I’m giving a shorter version of this paper at the History of Science Society meeting next weekend )  Here are the main points:

This paper looks at the changing position of the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) on emergency contraception, aka the “morning-after pill.” Initially this group was a vehement opponent of emergency contraception and other forms of hormonal birth control.  By the early 1990s the organization had joined broader efforts to develop a dedicated emergency contraceptive product.  NWHN found that there was sufficient evidence about the safety and effectiveness of this contraceptive method to “cautiously support its use.”
More importantly, increasing restrictions on abortion and access to federally-funded birth control under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush convinced the organization that they needed to help ensure that women had access to emergency contraception when other birth control methods failed.

This paper is a chapter out of a book-length project on the history of emergency contraception in the United States, which is under contract with Rutgers University Press. This project aims to use the history of emergency contraception to illuminate key themes in the politics of birth control and abortion since the 1960s.

In terms of relevance to other issues in health activism in the twentieth century, one of my main points is how the history of emergency contraception reflects the professionalization of the women’s health movement. Since the 1970s, feminist health activists had gradually become insiders in reproductive health by earning professional credentials, which gave them the ability to reform organized medicine and health care policy from within. Although some of their contemporaries accused these newly-minted professionals of “selling-out” rather than furthering the cause of women’s self-empowerment,” the corresponding radicalization of the medical “establishment” was equally significant. This book is intended to contribute to recent scholarship on how women have used experience of the physical body as a source of knowledge production and feminist practice regarding women’s health issues. For example, Wendy Kline argues that “body knowledge” was central to the women’s health activism of Second Wave feminism, and that this feminist framework was abandoned as the women’s health movement adopted the professional credentials and scientific language of the health care establishment.
I suggest that rather than being a departure from Second Wave feminist strategies that were based on knowledge of the biological body, recent activism on emergency contraception demonstrates how women have continued to use personal histories of their bodies to transform reproductive health research and healthcare policy. Since the early 1990s, emergency contraception has served as a “bridge issue” that brought together former adversaries, including feminist health organizations, population and family planning people, and groups representing women of color who were the main targets of attempts to control the “population crisis” in the United States.

This coalition did not arise without a struggle and had to overcome much bad faith generated by sexism in the medical profession and the racist and coercive policies of the population movement. My book shows how these diverse groups created a “middle ground” between an older liberal feminist position that tended to support technological innovations such as hormonal contraception; and a more radical feminist position that criticized the use of hormones but was otherwise in favor of reproductive rights.