This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
Sex and Gender
2005 Final Web Papers
To further her account of the inaccessibility of treatments like IVF, I researched what the actual costs of these procedures might be. I searched for infertility clinics in the Pennsylvania area and tried to find actual numbers for the costs of these procedures. What I found was that many did not break down the costs and pointed instead to ways to pay for these services, for example, taking out loans, borrowing from family, or tapping into retirement accounts. Finally, I found one site that listed the varying costs of procedures, drugs, and lab work. It appears the starting price for in-vitro fertilization is $10,000—this is without costs for drugs or lab work . Insurance companies might cover these procedures, but with many caveats that prevent single women or lesbians from utilizing insurance coverage for their procedures.
Roberts asks us to consider the historical and social implications of reproductive technologies on Black people and other "marginalized" communities. While she does not negate the usefulness of these technologies for many (such as infertile women, and lesbians) she asks that those promoting these technologies make them available to a wider audience. This is necessary for women who are in need of treatment for infertility but cannot access this treatment because of costs, misconceptions about the services, or other problems as discussed by Roberts. She suggests that policymakers consider, "What does it mean that we live in a country in which white women disproportionately use expensive technologies to enable them to bear children, while Black women disproportionately undergo surgery that prevents them from being able to bear any?" As Roberts suggests, reproductive technologies and how they are marketed and used present a dichotomy of interests. On one hand, white women are encouraged to use this technology to help in procreation, while Black women are forced to endure surgery that renders them infertile. Roberts provides the example that Black women are often told they should go ahead with procedures that will render them impotent (such as a hysterectomy) when other possible treatment might not require such a drastic choice.
Many communities of color are suspicious of scientific pursuits because of the history of abuse perpetrated on these communities in the name of science and medicine. For example, in the United States we have a history of using poor people of color for experimentation. An example of this was the 40-year study of Black men with syphilis from Tuskegee, Alabama, or the forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women during the initial push for industrialization of the island of Puerto Rico by the American government.
Women around the globe have also insisted on challenging how and what new reproductive technologies are manufactured and to whom. The Association of Women's Rights in Development, an organization committed to informing and mobilizing women around the world on women's rights, has written in detail about facing the challenges of new reproductive technologies. They pose the following questions: "How are NRT's [New Reproductive Technologies] tested, marketed, promoted?" "Are we becoming more accustomed to turning to techno-fixes for other problems?" and "[W]ho makes decisions about the creation and control of NRT's?"
AWID provides a historical context by which women of color/third world women have been mistreated by the medical establishment. They have been used as research subjects for these NRT's often without consent or concern for the well-being of these women. AWID is not only concerned that these technologies come about at the expense of third world women's lives but the larger issue of the commodification of women's bodies and reproductive capabilities. They also stress as Roberts did that "fundamental ideologies seek to impose an ideal of the family or of women that limits reproductive rights and autonomy." Also, they remind us that most NRT's are developed with a "Western-based model" which means that it is men in medicine that are designing new ways to "control women's bodies" , in essence, reproduction. AWID wants women around the world not to blindly accept NRT's and implore us to question how these technologies affect our lives.
Reproductive technologies can be both beneficial and harmful to women. This paper discussed issues of accessibility, invisibility, and the mistreatment of women of color in the medical establishment to highlight reasons why all women need to take a stronger stance and control of the way new reproductive technologies are marketed and developed. As a third wave feminist I firmly believe it is necessary to question why we choose to talk about reproductive technologies in terms of freedom of choice instead of talking about ways to make healthcare more accessible to all, or working to combat the conditions that might lead to problems with infertility such as poverty, malnutrition, etc. Should we be advancing technologies and using our resources for the few who can access them, or should we be remedying the problems that exist for a larger group of people? Roberts addressed the issue of accessibility of reproductive technologies and I see several ways in which the medical establishment could do more outreach to those who might actually need their services. I believe a grass-roots approach is most appropriate since many communities seek advice from each other either in churches or community organizations, even in beauty salons and barber shops. Advocates for safer sex find ways to do this by posting flyers in neighborhoods, or sponsoring free events. This could also be a vehicle for promotion of reproductive technologies. A further step is needed to address the costs, but this requires a comprehensive effort by many people in our society. Can we say universal health care?
Further research is needed on the effects of reproductive technologies on women of color and third world women and further analysis of the needs of these women with regard to what technologies are most useful for women in these communities.
Association for Women's Rights in Development. "Facing the Challenges of New Reproductive Technologies." facts and issues No. 8, June 2004.
Roberts, Dorothy E. "Race and the New Reproduction." Rpt. Moral Issues in Global Perspectives. Christine Koggel, Ed. Broadview Press: 1999
The Tuskegee Timeline from the Center for Disease Control Website http://www.cdc.gov/nchstp/od/tuskegee/time.htm . Accessed 11/23/2005
Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. http://www.wikipedia.org Accessed 11/23/2005
Women in World History Website, George Mason University http://chnm.gmu.edu/wwh/lessons/lesson16/lesson16.php?s=0 Accessed 11/23/2005
| Course Home | Serendip Home |