American Feminist Groups and Reproductive Rights

By Jennifer Merchant

Following a brief historical discussion of the role of the State and certain interest groups in regulating procreation, this article presents the concept of « reproductive rights » in its contemporary significance. This concept emerged in the 1970s and, essentially, resulted from a counter-offensive on the part of radical and socialist feminist groups who, without being opposed to State intervention in matters of procreation, denounced the shape this intervention was taking. Above all, these feminists sought to underline the limits of the institutionalized « right to privacy » (Roe v. Wade) by formulating a more enlarged definition of reproductive rights. The article then focuses on how and why this definition has not been able to convince all feminist groups in the United States of its pertinence, and, more importantly, how it has been instrumentalized by anti-abortion groups « rights speech », who have succeeded in attributing a juridical status to the fetus, tending to define them as persons. Finally, and moving beyond the topic of abortion (still politically explosive in the United States), the article discusses the advent of medically assisted procreation, applied biogenetics, and ensuing ethical dilemmas which profoundly question the conceptual framework of reproductive rights, serving to further accentuate divisions among feminist groups.

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