Nicole M. Jackson
The Ohio State University
African American and Black British women exhibited a complicated relationship with reproductive rights activism in the 1970s and 1980s. As women’s health work developed in both countries and focused their attention on abortion or expanding women’s access to birth control methods, Black women were often wary of these newfound “freedoms.” Much of this disagreement centered on the ways in which “choice” had been defined by mainstream society. Black women’s participation in the women’s health movement attempted to develop a more complicated definition of choice to demonstrate that more contraceptive options for White women could also means fewer choices for Black women. They provided a critique of reproductive abuses that centered race, class, and immigration status as significant arbiters of Black women’s health status. They demonstrated a deep-seated hostility and mistrust of medical professionals who they saw as working to systematically strip Black women of their reproductive freedom. They believed that their doctors saw them as incapable of controlling their fertility and used this as a reason to rob them of their agency. Opposition to Depo-Provera provides one demonstration of the complexity of this issue and illustrates that Black women’s reproductive rights activism was as much about protecting Black women’s bodies and safeguarding Black motherhood, as forestalling it. And in this ways they connected reproductive health with the general health of all Black women, and at times the Black community as a whole. In this way, they made reproductive rights a distinct domain of women of color, poor women and, at times, Black people writ large.