Professor examines rhetoric and reproductive rights as Supreme Court weighs Roe v. Wade

Professor examines rhetoric and reproductive rights as Supreme Court weighs Roe v. Wade

5:28pm May 03, 2022
Demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Washington. A draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a Politico report released Monday. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The leak of a draft in a Supreme Court abortion case has many people looking ahead to a time beyond Roe v. Wade protections. Heather Brook Adams, a professor of English at UNC Greensboro, looks at the issue by going back instead.

She has a soon-to-be-released book on the rhetoric of shame and its impact on reproductive rights in the era just before that landmark Supreme Court decision legalized abortion. WFDD’s Paul Garber spoke with Adams about her book, Enduring Shame: A Recent History of Unwed Pregnancy and Righteous Reproduction

Interview Highlights:

On how the book came about:

I heard many years ago, on public radio actually, about women who went away to homes for unwed mothers, before Roe v. Wade. And that was a history that was entirely foreign to me. So I learned a lot about that history by interviewing mothers and collecting their stories ... Most were in the 1960s, some into the early 1970s. So at that time, if you're white, and unmarried and pregnant, you certainly could not be publicly seen, and your story was so shameful, you had to be hidden. I thought, when I heard these stories, like, how could this ever have happened?

On how the women she interviewed described shame:

Many of them said that, you know, a parent, or maybe a school official, if they use that shame on you, you're bringing shame to this family, or you are bringing shame to this community so that at that time, the shame was communicated very, very directly. I listened to the women and they said, shame was the linchpin of everything. Now, I think that when it's your body, and you're trying to make the best decision for yourself, and potentially for your family, it's really unacceptable that women feel so much shame for speaking up about their bodies for wanting to know information about wanting to just be more informed and knowledgeable and in control of their own reproductive life.

On what she thinks will happen if Roe v. Wade is ultimately overturned

I can't imagine that we would go back to some of the stories that I've explored in this book or the experiences of people in this book, but at the same time, of course, we know that people will still be getting abortions. Fear and shame are so interlinked. You know, it's hard to imagine that this isn't just going to kind of perpetuate more sort of these toxic and bad feelings. But it's really hard to tell what the main narrative will be.

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