Reproductive Rights and Ecofeminism
2. Embracing Ecofeminism
3. Reproductive Injustice and Environmental Hazards
4. Harnessing Ecofeminism
5. Portents from Dystopia
6. Turning the Tables: Toward Contingency Consciousness
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
In March 2018, the Mississippi Legislature passed HB 1510, the Gestational Age Act, which banned abortion after the first 15 weeks. There are exceptions for a medical emergency or “severe fetal abnormality,” but not for cases of rape or incest. Republican Gov. Phil Byrant signed the bill on 19 March 2018. Jackson Women’s Health Organization quickly challenged the law, and in November 2018 the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled in the clinic’s favor. In December 2019, the Fifth Circuit unanimously upheld the lower court’s decision. Mississippi appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2021, which issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization June 2022.
Although the Dobbs decision claims that abortion was not embedded in American society as the nation was formed, that claim reflects something else the decision ignores—history. In fact, “most forms of abortion were not illegal [before 1800] and those American women who wished to practice abortion did so” (Mohr 1979, p. vii). In cities like Boston, midwives who practiced abortion even advertised assisting with menstruation delays in newspapers. The nascent American Medical Association waged a state-by-state campaign to have abortion declared illegal to push midwives, who performed most abortions, out of competition with doctors (Mohr 1979). In addition, the U.S. Constitution is entirely silent on the subject of abortion, while it instructed that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” That “establishment clause” in the Bill of Rights was meant to “build a wall between the church and state,” in the words of Thomas Jefferson in 1802 (Ryman and Alcorn 2009).
This separation includes complicating the relationship between socially recognized women and pregnancy and childbirth. We must note that “women” is no longer a fixed category and that trans people recognized as men can become pregnant and deliver babies. The more neutral terms birth-givers, people, or bodies, appears in this article when possible, but the term women remains when that social group is the focus of a particular discussion, theory, or law.
Masculinism characterizes many societies, including pre-industrial and indigenous societies, so it is not exclusive to industrialist, colonialist, and extractive societies. The latter conditions may, however, magnify what industrialized societies might consider Nature’s or God’s law about the hierarchical role of the sexes and the “proper” place of males and females within it. Capitalist societies, which attach money to success, raise the stakes for participation and typically exploit women’s role in childbearing and nurturing as criteria for exclusion. The term masculinist was first used by nineteenth-century feminists Hubertine Auclert and Charlotte Perkins Gilman to denote defenders of male domination (Allen 2009). It is used in that way today in scholarship from geology to literary studies to photography to education. See, for example, Kerry Driscoll’s 2022 article, “Mark Twain’s Masculinist Fantasy of the West” (The Mark Twain Annual 20: 100–14). The term has also been used since the 1980s to mask the antifeminism of some men, especially in North America, who claim that feminism has gone too far, causing a “crisis of masculine identity.” Such masculinists declared it was important to take back control, especially in the family, oppose abortion, and defend male parental rights, even for men who have been violent toward their children. Robert Bly’s Iron John (1990) and Harvey Mansfield’s Manliness (2006) both advocated returning to the rites and traditions of virility. Pope Benedict XVI cast the Catholic Church’s lot in with masculinist anti-feminism in 2009, when he wrote that feminism was the “self-destruction of man, and hence a destruction of the work of God himself” (Bard 2020).
“Despite rapid growth and expansion of the service sector, women’s relative wages and labor force participation have declined in China during the last two decades, a 2021 paper from the International Monetary Fund reports.” The wage differential on mainland China can be as great as 25 percent. Job ads can still state gender preferences. https://thechinaproject.com/2022/03/08/women-at-work-in-china-in-2022/ (accessed on 20 March 2023). New population expansion efforts in China are also pressuring Chinese women to have more babies, even as “employers are discriminating against women as [they] are perceived to have more care burdens and are thus deemed as secondary workers.” No supports for working mothers have so far been proposed. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jan/24/china-population-decline-negative-growth-what-it-means-for-world (accessed on 20 March 2023).
See, for example, Alaimo (2010); Gaard (1997, 2017); Kandiyoti (1988); King (1983); MacGregor (2017, 2021); Mathews (2017); Mellor (2017, 2019); Merchant (1990); Mies (1986); Plumwood (1993); Plumwood (1996); Ruether (1975); Salleh (1992); Sandilands (1997a, 1997b); Shiva (1990); Shiva and Mies (1993); Thompson and MacGregor (2017); Thompson (2006).
The Sierra Club is an influential grassroots environmental organization in the U.S., with chapters in every state. It was founded in California by environmentalist John Muir. Long considered a white-focused organization, the club in recent years has diversified its concerns about the impact of environmental destruction on marginalized and indigenous communities (Sierra Club 2023).
In truth, “20 percent of the world’s peoples own 80 percent of its resources, consume two-thirds of its food, and are responsible for 75 percent of its ongoing pollution, with this leading to two billion of earth’s peoples living relatively affluent lives while four billion [are] still on the edge of hunger and immiseration” (Frazier 2016; Quoting Sylvia Wynter, p. 44).
Many Native American writers have identified the inequities inflicted on their lands by extractive industries. Black Mesa, a 4000 square-mile plateau in northern Arizona contains the largest low-sulfur coal deposit in the U.S. It is also home to 16,000 Navajos and 8000 Hopi and sits atop the Navajo Aquafer. In 1966, tribal councils agreed to 35-year leases to the Peabody Coal Company of Kentucky, then the largest coal producer in the U.S. When water rights were going for USD 50 per acre-foot, the Hopi were paid USD 1.67 per acre foot; the Navajo got USD 5 per acre-foot, violating “every guideline that the Department of the Interior had set up for leasing on public lands. The lease had few environmental guidelines. The story gets worse from there (Parke-Sutherland 2018, pp. 130–31).
Researchers have found that women were about 14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth to a live baby than to die from complications of an abortion. Combining government data on live births and abortion-related deaths, Drs. Elizabeth Raymond and David Grimes found that one woman died during childbirth for every 11,000 or so babies born, compared to one woman of every 167,000 who died from a legal medical abortion between 1998 and 2005 (Pittman 2012). Maternal mortality and pregnancy complications are highest for adolescent girls and women birthing in low-resource settings (World Health Organization 2021). Abortion is safer than childbirth and a host of other common procedures—colonoscopy, tonsillectomy, and plastic surgery (Thompson 2021).
Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler are both media stars even now, decades after their germinal works were published. According to the BBC in 2020, Butler has a cult following. Tee shirts warning that “Octavia tried to tell us” are still for sale, and there has been a podcast of the same name by Monica Coleman and Tananarive Due (Anderson 2020). Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale was adapted into a hit TV show in 2017, and it is still streaming on Hulu. According to Vox, “her books aren’t just getting the prestige TV treatment; they’re being treated as prophetic texts.” New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead called Atwood “the prophet of dystopia.” Protestors are demanding to make Atwood’s work fiction again instead of reality The Handmaid’s Tale has not been out of print since it was first published. In addition to the TV show, the novel has also inspired a film and an opera. (Grady 2017) Future Home of the Living God was listed as one of the 100 Notable Books in 2017 by the New York Times Book Review. Although set in an unspecified future, Erdrich timed the publication of the novel, begun in 2002, to coincide with the Trump presidency and the increase in deaths from unsafe abortions and the newly reimposed global gag rule forbidding U.S. doctors in clinics abroad from telling patients about abortion options, even if abortion is legal in the country in which they work. She explained in 2017, “I only have to look at photographs of white men in dark suits deciding crucial issues of women’s health to know the timing is right” for publication of “Future Home” (Felicelli 2017).
Although anti-abortion beliefs are not necessarily based on religious views, “the whole edifice—the whole 50-year struggle, the whole raft of political organization [in the U.S.] and manipulation of the confirmation process [for Supreme Court Justices] to finally achieve a majority that would overturn Roe—has been really religious in its motivation from the start.” In addition, the five Justices who joined the majority opinion in Dobbs are (in the words of Steven Millies of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago) “particular kinds of Catholics” and products “of Catholicism’s conservative side” (Ledewitz 2022). A 2023 study by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution in the U.S. found that more than half of Republicans believe “the country should be a strictly Christian nation, either adhering to the ideals of Christian nationalism (21%) or sympathizing with those views (33%).” Christian nationalists eschew pluralism and an inclusive democracy, believe that U.S. laws should be rooted in so-called Christian values, and wish the nation consisted only of Christians. “According to the survey, half of Christian nationalism adherents and nearly 4 in 10 sympathizers said they support the idea of an authoritarian leader in order to keep these Christian values in society” (Lopez 2023).
In addition to the conventional, dualistic views of most religious American Christians about gender roles, birth control, and abortion—all of which reinforce women’s domestic identities and life purposes—most Christians in the U.S. (63 percent) are opposed to gender self-selection and the concept of gender dysphoria. “Among Christians, white evangelical Protestants (84 percent) are most likely to say that gender is determined by sex at birth. Many black Protestants (59 percent) and white mainline Protestants (55 percent) also feel this way.” Protestants are also likely to think that accepting transgender people in U.S. society goes too far. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/27/views-of-transgender-issues-divide-along-religious-lines/ (accessed on 20 March 2023).
Although the Dobbs decision itself did not ban abortion in the U.S., it gave tacit permission for such bans, even in cases of rape, incest, and maternal health threats, by states. The Court’s decision also apparently implied permission to criminalize not only the performance of an abortion but also enabling or receiving one. In granting that permission, the U.S. is now in the company of such nations as Honduras (totally banned in 2021), Poland (effectively banned in 2021), Brazil (banned except for rape, fetal encephaly, and mother’s health in 2020), and Iran (banned and surveilled in 2021), North Korea (banned by decree in 2015), Nicaragua (banned in 2006), and El Salvador (banned in 1998) (Alcoba 2021) Mexico, Ireland, and Argentina have recently relaxed their laws on abortion, and in much of Europe, Canada, Italy, and Australia, abortion access is restricted only by length of pregnancy (Elbaum and Chiwaya 2022).
Lilith has appeared in many guises in Jewish religious folklore. She is considered the first wife of Adam in Judaic mythology, banished from Eden for not obeying Adam. She is mentioned in the Book of Isaiah and other Jewish mythology sources from 500 CE onward. She also appears in the Babylonian Talmud in the Book of Adam and Eve and features in the Zohar Leviticus as “a hot fiery female who first cohabited with man.” Some authorities refute her existence, however, including Maimonides.
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Kitch, S.L. Reproductive Rights and Ecofeminism. Humanities 2023, 12, 34. https://doi.org/10.3390/h12020034
Kitch SL. Reproductive Rights and Ecofeminism. Humanities. 2023; 12(2):34. https://doi.org/10.3390/h12020034Chicago/Turabian Style
Kitch, Sally L. 2023. "Reproductive Rights and Ecofeminism" Humanities 12, no. 2: 34. https://doi.org/10.3390/h12020034