The feminist fight for bodily autonomy has been an ongoing struggle. Issues such as abortion, birth control, right to maternity leave, and women’s healthcare have been vanguard of the feminist struggle. Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English discuss in great detail the “exorcism” of midwives from the birthing process at the beginning of the 20th century. Essentially, Ehrenreich and English imply at the beginning of 20th century the birthing process became medicalized from an event occurring primarily in the home under the supervision of a midwife, to one primarily occurring in a hospital under the care of a male doctor. Consequently as a result, the birthing process once considered solely dominion of women comes almost entirely under the jurisdiction of men.
Midwives at their time of prominence were pivotal not only to the birthing process, but also in the before and after care of the mother. Medical experts banned midwives from the medical field, referring to the abundance of practicing midwives as the “midwife problem”. They justified this ban by claiming midwives to be “dirty, uneducated, and unnecessary” people incapable of proper delivery and care of babies. However, the flaw in this argument is that the midwives had been effectively delivering and caring healthy babies for centuries. “Midwifery, an all-female role…responsible for 50% of the births in 1900 in the United States (mostly to lower-class, immigrant women who couldn’t afford a physician), became obsolete, backwards, and undesirable compared to the hospital and physician alternative” (Ehrenreich and English 103).
Before the 1973 Supreme Court Case, Roe v. Wade it was illegal to have an abortion in most states of the U.S. In 1969, a ambitious group of Chicago women known as the Jane Collective was founded to help women reclaim autonomy of their reproductive systems through the operation of an anonymous network providing safe abortions and abortion counseling to any woman who wanted it. Though they initially arranged abortions for their clients with certified professionals (mainly physicians), they eventually were able to learn the abortion procedure themselves. Consequently, they were able to offer more women their services at a much lower-reduced cost. After the ruling made on Roe v. Wade the Jane Collective disbanded, as their services were no longer needed.
Fast-forward to today’s current political climate, we see that issues such as abortion, birth control, right to maternity leave, and women healthcare are still controversial and are still at the vanguard of politics. Though much progress has been since 1973 such as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which helped ease the process of obtaining birth control. Women’s healthcare is still a major issue. Health insurance companies are discriminating against women on the basis of their sex, since women have a greater demand for healthcare due to their combined needs of pregnancy, family planning, and birth control. “The typical American woman who wants to have two children will spend about five years being pregnant, recovering from pregnancy or trying to get pregnant, and about 30 years trying to avoid unintended pregnancies.” (Folbre). Currently, discrimination based on gender is illegal in 10 states. We need to make a push make an illegal in all 50 states. Also, often women are closed out of a health-insurance plan plan, because her medical history reveals a pre-existing condition such as a C-section, rape, or physical abuse. First Lady, Michelle Obama is currently embracing and campaigning for equality in women’s healthcare, and influential leaders are joining her campaign. Reform in women’s healthcare is slowly on its way!
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[Last Updated: 9/19/12]