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Emma Day joins the Vossius Center for three months from March 2024 as a Research Fellow with the project "Beyond Procreation: A New History of Reproductive Justice in the United States".

About the project

The aim of my project is to expand the study of reproductive justice beyond health struggles related to procreation. The project seeks to do so by examining the historical mechanisms through which reproductive health came to narrowly revolve around childbearing in public health and politics, to the exclusion of people unable or not seeking to have children. Moreover, the study examines research, treatment, and activism around a range of non-procreative reproductive experiences, including those of trans* and disabled people - revealing the regulation of bodies beyond fertility, pregnancy, and maternal health. In so doing, the project offers the first comprehensive history of the formation and maintenance of the concept of ‘reproductive health’ and its role in shaping the politics of the gendered body since the 1960s.

The mid-twentieth century saw the advent of new reproductive technologies and treatments such as the Pill and In Vitro Fertilisation that reshaped reproductive knowledge and experiences in the US. The study investigates how their introduction empowered doctors who presented bodies that did not bear children - whether out of choice or inability - as unhealthy and in need of ‘fixing’, either through surgery, psychiatry, or treatment. Moreover, it asks how the normalisation of childbearing bodies as healthy, and bodies that deviated from that norm as unhealthy, narrowed the scope of reproductive care by leaving conditions not directly linked to procreation like endometriosis understudied, and promoting childbearing in pre-menopausal, white, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied women in ways that regulated sex and gender norms tied to age, race, class, and ability.

Reproductive justice is a human rights framework which defines health not only as the absence of disease but the presence of freedom, equality, and rights. Scholarship on reproductive justice in the US focuses on discrete areas of reproductive health that are particularly politically contentious, such as abortion and specific diseases, leaving us with a partial understanding of how medical practices, technological advancements, and health activism have shaped gendered body norms since the 1960s. This history is the first to approach the political development of reproductive justice from a holistic perspective, showing that reproductive autonomy involves health questions ranging from procreation, pregnancy, and maternal health through to chronic illness, trans* health, and gender identity.

About the researcher

Emma is a Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford. She is a historian of the twentieth century United States specialising in the intersections between sexuality and gender and medicine and disease. Her first book, In Her Hands: Women’s Fight Against AIDS in the United States (University of California Press, 2023), explores the interplay between women’s health activism and political action in shaping the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. Her research also appears in Public Health and the American State, ed. Gaetano Di Tommaso, Dario Fazzi, Giles Scott-Smith (University of Edinburgh Press, 2024), Modern American History, and The Theatre Annual: A Journal of Theatre and Performance of the Americas. As a Junior Research Fellow at the Vossius Center this Spring, Emma plans to carry out further exploratory research - and connect with scholars - to develop her postdoctoral research project, Beyond Procreation: A New History of Reproductive Justice in the United States.