The Fight for Body Autonomy: The Evolution of Reproductive Rights in America

The development of reproductive rights are a crucial component of the development of feminism in the United States. In this exhibit, the overall topic is the development of reproductive rights; there are five subsections that each center around a different approach to analyzing this history. Each subsection develops its own ideas and concepts, but they will also be able to connect back to one another so that a more comprehensive illustration of the exhibit’s narrative is seen. With each of these subsections, we will provide new perspectives that may not be considered often when thinking about the history of reproductive rights.

Readers will see that the development of reproductive rights has not always been a uncomplicated, linear narrative. Many gains have been won but it is important to remember that they can be lost just as easily. Our research is focused maily be focusing on the twentieth and early twenty first century history of reprodutive rights in the United States. “The Fight for Body Autonomy: The Evolution of Reproductive Rights in America” will be based on perspectives of all women in regards to their reproductive rights, regardless of their race, class, or sexuality. 

The five subsections of this exhibit are: the history and effects of the Comstock laws and how they were a means of government control, the early history of birth control in the United States, legal studies, feminist perspectives on prostitution after 1973, and a look at reproductive rights internationally. The subsection on control over reproductive rights, the Comstock Act of 1873 will be analyzed to understand the build-up of control, by the government, to limit the access and use of contraceptives and birth control by women, and how the act has continued to push ideas of control despite people becoming more open to contraceptives and birth control over time. The early history of birth control subsection will focus on the efforts of activist Margaret Sanger, who was crucial to the movement to make birth control more accessible for women in the early twentieth century. The subsection of legal studies will help establish the path legal decisions made to legalize abortion, how states used that decision to place restrictions on the procedure, and laws that have been passed since the Roe v. Wade decision and how those decisions affect people’s everyday lives. The prostitution subsection will tie into the historical research pertaining to the effects of the legalization of abortion after 1973 to present, specifically how the feminist cause has changed and diversified their perspectives towards those who will benefit the most from legal and publicly funded reproductive health and abortion services. Finally, the international relations section will look at reproductive rights in other countries, reproductive rights as an international issue, and the global effect of the Roe v. Wade outcome.

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