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The "Fertility Crisis" and the Politics of Reproduction


In the fall issue of Bookforum, Jordan Larson reviews two recent books on the politics of reproduction: Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family by Sophie Lewis, and, Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work by Jenny Brown. In different ways, the books serve as ripostes to reactionary calls to revive the “traditional” family structure in the face of declining birth rates and diversifying relations of care around the world. As Larson writes, these books show that our response to the so-called “fertility crisis” should be to empower mothers and caregivers, not force them back into narrow, patriarchal roles. Here’s an excerpt:

In Birth Strike, Brown argues that efforts to restrict reproductive freedom are less about cultural oppression than about controlling the birth rate and population size. “As long as we think of the battle over abortion and birth control as primarily a cultural conflict, in which the two sides simply hold different worldviews, it’s not clear why corporate owners and establishment planners would have much interest one way or the other,” she writes. “But if we look at the battle as a fight over the production of humans—how many, how fast, and at what cost—then it seems likely that employers, as a class, would have an intense interest.” To make her point she draws on the work of feminist historians, showing that abortion in the United States was virtually unrestricted until the mid-nineteenth century, when state legislatures began fretting about declining birth rates and increased immigration. By the 1880s abortion was banned in nearly every state and Comstock laws prohibited even the dissemination of any information on contraceptives.

Image: Katrina Majkut, In Control 5. Via