ND panel discusses “racist healthcare”, “right to abortion.”

The Notre Dame Gender Studies Program and the Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values hosted a virtual panel titled “Reproductive Health Disparities and Injustice” on February 17. 

The panel is part of a year-long event series titled “Reproductive Justice: Scholarship for Solidarity and Social Change,” which previously hosted two panels titled “Post-Roe America: Making Intersectional Feminist Sense of Abortion Bans” in fall 2022.

Several Notre Dame and St. Mary’s departments supported the event, including the Initiative on Race and Resilience; the Center for Social Concerns; the Institute for Latino Studies; the Departments of American Studies, Anthropology, English, Film, Television & Theatre, History, Political Science, and Sociology; and the St. Mary’s College Department of Gender and Women’s Studies.

Associate Director of Gender Studies Pam Butler moderated the panel. She began by welcoming all of the attendees to “this important discussion about reproductive health disparities, which will have a particular focus on how the intersection of racism with other forms of injustice impacts pregnancy and birth outcomes, and of course, what we can do about it.”

The panelists were Elena Rebecca Gutiérrez, Associate Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies & Latino Studies at University of Illinois-Chicago; Taylor Martin, Assistant Director of Health Equity & Overseer of Community Health Worker program for St. Joseph County; Miriam Zoila Pérez, whom the gender studies website calls an “award-winning queer Cuban writer and activist;” and Marchelle A. Pettit, the Program Coordinator for BASE Doula Program of Goodwill of Michiana.

Panelists emphasized correlations between reproductive health and factors such as gender, sexuality, race, and class. According to Gutiérrez, “The reproductive justice framework insists that we account for how all of these systems and more work together in different ways and in different circumstances to limit the so-called choices that people have to determine their own reproductive lives.”

Martin cited Indiana maternal mortality rates, saying that 92 “pregnancy-associated deaths” occurred in 2020. Only 18 of those deaths were “pregnancy related,” which means they were the result of pregnancy complications. 66 were “pregnancy associated, which is a death within the one year of pregnancy for any cause.” She added that black women have much higher mortality rates than their white and Hispanic counterparts.

Pérez claimed, “Obviously, the big answer is we have to eliminate racism. We have to fight white supremacy, but we know that’s a long term project. It’s not going to happen in our lifetimes, probably.”

In response to a question of how the overturning of Roe V. Wade affected women, Pérez said, “I never imagined that we could get to this place,” and “the fact that so many people in different states can’t access abortion” is a “nightmare.” Gutiérrez added that it “literally is putting people’s lives at risk” and will “disproportionately affect low-income people of color.”

A Notre Dame senior told the Rover that he saw a poster for the event in a campus computer lounge and decided to attend. After attending, he said, “It was very disappointing to see that a university-sponsored event is so obviously promoting access to abortion … It was also quite shocking to hear the panelists encouraging participants to reach out to and support organizations such as the Midwest Abortion Access Coalition and Hoosier Abortion Fund that help people get access to abortions.

The student continued, “Another saddening part of the panel was that the panelists continually used the phrase ‘birthing person’ instead of ‘mother,’ which denies the beauty of motherhood and the incredible miracle that is a mother giving birth to her child. It may seem like a meaningless change of words, but at the end of the day, it is our language that controls our culture.”

During the panel, Gutiérrez responded to a question about this terminology: “It’s really just to be more capacious and comprehensive about how people might identify who are having children … it’s just a more gender-neutral term.” She continued, “Ideas about gender and who should reproduce and not reproduce are just as important as gender as we understand it as a social construction in the United States.”

In her opening remarks, Butler explained, “Notre Dame policy calls for balance when sensitive, but important topics, such as the right to abortion are discussed on campus. To that end, we’ve been invited to provide a list of a few of the many events held on campus that reflect the university’s position on questions related to abortion. After today’s event we will forward that list and a follow-up email along with all of the resources and citations that may come up during today’s panel discussion.” Butler emailed this document of resources to registrants on February 20. 

No other mention of the university’s official pro-life stance was made. The Notre Dame Common Proposal states that “when a significant issue in the Catholic tradition is touched upon, that tradition should be presented,” but “The manner in which balance and the representation of the Catholic tradition is achieved will depend on the nature of the event. If the event is a lecture by an individual, these are best achieved by sponsoring other speakers over a period of time.” None of the pro-life events listed on the document were sponsored by the Gender Studies Program nor the Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values.

The next event in this series is titled “Trans Care + Abortion Care: Intersections and Questions.” According to the Gender Studies website, it will be a zoom panel featuring Jules Gill-Petersen and Ash Williams. Gill-Petersen is an Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University who wrote a book “to shatter the widespread myth that transgender children are a brand new generation in the 21st century.” Williams is a “Black trans abortion doula” who “has been vigorously fighting to expand abortion access by funding abortions and training other people to become abortion doulas.”

The panel will take place on Zoom on March 20. To receive a link to the meeting, participants must register online via the Gender Studies Program website

Madeline Murphy is a sophomore from Davenport, IA majoring in music and theology with a minor in constitutional studies. She is very passionate about reproductive justice, so she serves on the executive board of Notre Dame Right to Life. She can be reached at mmurph64@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: Event Advertisement

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