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Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

Dorothy Roberts' passionate and well-documented book looks at a less-talked about side of the battle for reproductive rights: the history of the social and governmental control of African American women's bodies. Roberts, a law professor at Rutgers University, asserts that African American women have been engaged from the start in an ongoing fight to gain control of their reproductive choice. First, in the early days of American slavery, from control by white "masters" who forced slaves to produce children to work for them, and now, from government "solutions" to African American child-bearing like the distribution of the long-term contraceptive Norplant in African American communities. Roberts also takes the mainstream feminist movement to task for working mostly for the "negative right" of liberty, that is, the right of women to not have the government involved in their reproductive decision-making. To Roberts this debate, focused mainly on government non-interference, ignores issues especially important to African American women such as access to contraception or reproduction technologies. "Reproductive freedom is a matter of social justice," she says, stating further that it is social inequality, more than any legal interference, that severely limits African American women's ability to choose how and whether to have children. "We need a way of rethinking the meaning of liberty so that it protects all citizens equally," Roberts writes. "I propose that focusing on the connection between reproductive rights and racial equality is the place to start." --Maria Dolan

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