Monday’s Mtg: Is Reproductive Freedom Key to Gender Equality?

It will be good to be back in the gavel again on Monday.  We talk a lot about the problems of the world in this group.  Occasionally, we’ve identified the lack of gender equality as a big contributor to many of the world’s problems, like poverty and crime, or in certain parts of the world, like Muslim countries, etc.  But, we have never tackled the sensitive topic of one of the main causes of that inequality: The lack of women’s reproductive freedom.  Spurred by a great book I recently read, I’ve become a big believer that the two are inextricably linked  – both here and abroad.  If women are unable, under the law or in practice, to control the number and timing of their procreation, then equal rights mean a lot less, and often don’t mean much.

By “reproductive choice,” I do NOT mean just a code word for abortion, although our political dialogue often reduces it to that.  It means that women have access to affordable

  • Contraception and family planning services, which means basic health care;.
  • The political power to get it and protect it
  • Opportunities to do more with their lives than just bear lots of children – if they want to do more – and the education and access to jobs this requires;
  • Protection from reproductive coercion by their husbands and family members; and, yes, Virginia
  • Access to safe, legal, and affordable abortions in case of unwanted pregnancies.

In other words, to have reproductive freedom, women need to have it de jure (under the law), but also de facto (in practice, which means their governmental systems have to provide access, their political systems have to value it, and their cultures – the men, especially –  have to support it, too).

Also, it’s a great time for us to have our first ever discussion of reproductive health and choice.  Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State made advancing women’s health care and access to reproductive services a major priority in our foreign policy and aid programs, and people are wondering if her replacement, John Kerry, will continue to do so.  (The relationship between reproductive rights and gender equality and between gender equality and economic and social development have been a major focus of development theory for several decades now.)  And, in the U.S., in case you’ve been living under a rock, Republican state legislatures have made restricting abortion access and reproductive services for poor women one of their top priorities.



  1. What does it mean for women to have to have “reproductive freedom?”
  2. Why is reproductive freedom so important for gender equality and why is gender equality so important for a healthy democracy and for economic and social development?
  3. What are the obstacles to creating reproductive freedom abroad and protecting it here?
  4. Why do many people, including many good and well-meaning people, oppose women’s reproductive freedom?  Is it just about protecting patriarchy and power, or are there other reasons?
  5. Are there downsides to achieving the reproductive part of gender equality?  How do we address those problems?




NEXT WEEK:  Obamacare implementation update and issues.  I’ll try to update us thoroughly while keeping it short.  We’re on a real roll with timely topics!


3 responses

  1. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    The issue is inevitably bound up with that of population control.
    In most of the West, the fertility rate is at or below the reproduction rate (2.1 children/female), that is the rate required to maintain the population. Japan also has low rates and a stable or falling population.

    It seems to be mostly Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia where women still are having lots of children–by choice, or because of social pressure etc. is an interesting question.

    I would just hope reproductive freedom would be interpreted in the sense of freedom to have fewer children.

  2. Aaron De Groot | Reply

    In retrospect, I believe that Jim and Carl were right…..death penalty and abortion two different issues. Abortion turns on whether a fetus is a person or not; thus comes down to religious viewpoint.

  3. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    Yes, exactly.
    It is interesting though that many people do seem to connect the two issues.
    The Catholic church, which has a strong position against abortion in ALL circumstances (and has crossed Amnesty International off its list of organizations it will work with), has a very weak position against the death penalty.

    In the one instance, a doctor eliminates a group of cells. In the other, the state kills a person. I just don’t consider them comparable at all, unless one believes the fetus has a soul, etc.

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