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Reproductive Sociology Research Group

The 6th Annual ReproSoc Public Lecture 2020 is now available on our ReproSoc Youtube Channel.

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The Afterlife of Eugenics: Incarcerated Women and the Fertility Continuum

Prof France Winddance Twine, Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Barbara

Introduction: Professor Sarah Franklin
Chair:  Dr Katharine Dow

In 1909 California became the third state to pass eugenics laws that sanctioned involuntary sterilization of institutionalized individuals deemed ‘unfit to reproduce’. These laws remained on the books until their repeal in 1979. In the summer of 2013, the Center for Investigative Reporting published an article alleging that female inmates in California state prisons had been sterilized without their consent and without procedural accountability. This exposé prompted a state investigation which confirmed that 144 women had been sterilized in California state prisons between 2005 and 2006 and 2012- 2013. This talk explores how mass incarceration, structural racism, gender inequality and neo-liberalism combine to constrain the reproductive agency of incarcerated women and violate their bodily integrity. By situating recent investigations of unnecessary hysterectomies in US prisons within the larger history of eugenics in the United States, this lecture brings Twine’s concept of the ‘fertility continuum’ into dialogue with Dorothy Roberts concept of ‘reproductive liberty’. The outsourcing of prison management  to private corporations has produced a profit-driven and under-regulated carceral structure that is responsible for the delivery of reproductive health care and management of fertility for increasing numbers of women – with especially devastating consequences for impoverished, Black, Native American and Spanish-speaking citizens and immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America. In turn these violations significantly widen the analysis of what Dana Ain Davis calls ‘Reproductive (In)Justice’.