Black Women and the ‘War On Women’

Black women

I, like most of Black America, have been obsessed with the Trayvon Martin case and have been mulling the intricacies of the “Stand Your Ground” and the related “Castle Doctrines,” which allows people to kill intruders in and around their homes.

Speaking to me recently for a Women’s History Month podcast, I hosted for the Interactivity Foundation, the D.C.-based health scholar and activist Autumn Saxton-Ross raised a good point: Some politicians want government to stay out of the states and people’s everyday lives, and everyone else to stay out of the privacy of their homes. Yet … “government can’t stay out of my [womb]? It’s so contradictory.”

If you are a woman who considers your body your castle, Standing Your Ground is not an option. Everyone from presidential hopefuls, statelegislatures around the country, to the halls of Congress are adding their two cents about what kinds of prescription medicines you get to access, and even what kinds of objects must be inserted into your vagina before a medical procedure.

Listening to a complete stranger debate how to regulate your body is a very peculiar sensation. Very dehumanizing. It’s as if the mix of flesh and feelings, and wants and needs, and ambitions and limits surrounding your womb are irrelevant. You and your doctor don’t have the ultimate say about what happens “down there.” The state does.

And as a woman who happens to have been descended from enslaved Africans, I find it particularly unsettling. Writing in the Nation, JoAnn Wypijewski, also views debate over women’s bodies through a racial and historic frame. She notes that Pamela Bridgewater’s forthcoming book, “Breeding a Nation” will make the argument:


The broad culture tells a standard story of the struggle for reproductive rights, beginning with the flapper, climaxing with the pill, Griswold v. Connecticut and an assumption of privacy rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and concluding with Roe v. Wade.
The same culture tells a traditional story of Black emancipation, beginning with the Middle Passage, climaxing with Dred Scott, Harpers Ferry and Civil War and concluding with the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
Both stories have a postscript — a battle royal between liberation and reaction — but, as Bridgewater asserts, “Taken together, these stories have no comprehensive meaning. They tell no collective tale. They create no expectation of sexual freedom and no protection against, or remedy for, reproductive slavery. They exist in separate spheres; that is a mistake.” What unites them but what both leave out, except incidentally, is the experience of Black women. Most significantly, they leave out “the lost chapter of slave breeding.”

It’s a provocative premise. Who better than Black women to speak out on the regulation of a woman’s body? These are questions we explored during the podcast. In addition to Saxton-Ross, I was joined by Lisa Crooms-Robinson a longtime Howard University law professor and human rights activist, and Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of the bestselling historic novel about women in slavery, “Wench.”

We looked at the spate of bills about reproductive health, how men may feel threatened by the gains of women, and why more Black women are not more visible in the feminist response to attacks on reproductive freedom. Check it out. Comment here, or send your thoughts, questions and reactions to


By Natalie Hopkinson