Gender and Reproductive Rights (CGS107)

Time: TU/TH, 3:30 – 4:50 p.m.
Place: Center Hall 218
Prof. Plant’s office: HSS 4062
Office hours: Thursdays, 1-3 p.m.

Course description: Today, few subjects are as contentious as reproductive rights. The modern era has witnessed intense debates over such issues as abortion, birth control, surrogacy, sperm donation, and prenatal testing. For those with financial means, a wide array of new technologies now exist to assist reproduction or to provide detailed information about fetal health. These developments speak to some of humanity’s most fundamental ethical dilemmas: when does human life begin? What role should governments play in people’s private lives? To what extent should we intervene in the development of human life? Should we concern ourselves with population growth, especially in light of environmental concerns? Subjecting questions like these to historical, sociological and other forms of analysis, this class delves into a range of pressing concerns.

Ground rules: This is a no-electronics course, meaning that the use of laptops or other electronic devices, including phones, is not permitted in class. We all love our computers, but experience has shown me that a significant percentage of students cannot refrain from surfing online or texting during class. Moreover, studies have shown that even those students who use laptops only for note taking perform worse on conceptual questions—in other words, the most important questions—than students who take notes by hand. This is because when you take notes on a laptop, you are more inclined to simply transcribe rather than processing information as you write.

See: “To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand.” 

Academic integrity: I take the issue of academic integrity very seriously and will report all suspected cases of cheating or plagiarism. Indeed, as a UCSD professor, I am required by the Office of the Academic Integrity Coordinator to file a report if I suspected such activity has occurred. Please do not make me take this step. (See the “Instructors’ Responsibility” and “Students’ Responsibility” sections of the University’s Academic Integrity Statement.) Plagiarism is not limited to the most flagrant examples of cutting and pasting material from the web. Any time you take a sentence, or even a phrase, from another person’s work without using quotation marks and providing proper attribution, you are plagiarizing. When you write a paper, the best way to avoid plagiarism is to do all the necessary reading, including online reading, before you begin to write. Once you start, you should not go online again until the paper is done. If you have any questions as to what is or is not plagiarism, please review the attached MLA statement. If you still have questions, please contact me.

Late paper policy: I will accept late papers without penalty only if an extension is requested by email at least seven days in advance of the due date. Otherwise, a letter grade will be deducted for each day beyond the due date.

Course requirements

An in-class midterm (25%; 250 points)

  • The midterm will consist of a series of short answer questions. Short answer questions require a long paragraph response.

A 5-7 page paper (25%; 250 points)

A take-home final essay examination (30%; 300 points)

  • For the final, you will respond to three essay questions. Your essay responses should have short introductory and concluding paragraphs and a minimum of five supporting paragraphs.

Weekly in class quizzes/reflections (20%; 150 points total; 15 points each)

  • This is essentially your attendance/participation grade. They are P/F, and if you have been coming to class and doing the reading, they should be a cakewalk. Some will be on Tuesday and others on Thursday, but they will not be announced beforehand. If you pass at least 8 of the 9 quizzes/reflections, you will receive full credit. As with my no-electronics policy, my use of quizzes has a two-fold purpose. Of course I want to know who is coming to class and doing the work, but I also want to help you master the material, and it turns out that being tested significantly enhances people’s ability to remember material that they study. See “How Tests Make Us Smarter.”

Grading: 97-100 = A+; 94-96 = A; 90-93 = A-; 87-89 = B+; 84-86 = B; 80-83 = B-; 77-79 = C+; 74-76 = C; 70-73 = C-; etc.

Grading for this class will not be on a scale.

Minoring or double-majoring in Critical Gender Studies: Many students take a Critical Gender Studies course because the topic is of great interest or because of a need to fulfill a university or college requirement. Often students have taken three or four classes out of interest yet have no information about the major or minor and don’t realize how close they are to a major, a minor, or even a double major. A Critical Gender Studies major is excellent preparation for a career in law, public policy, education, public health, social work, non-profit work and many other careers. If you would like information about the Critical Gender Studies major or minor at UCSD, please contact Joje Reyes-Alonzo, Critical Gender Studies Program Advisor, via email at


France Winddance Twine, Outsourcing the Womb: Race, Class, and Gestational Surrogacy in a Global Market (New York: Routledge University Press)

Aarathi Prasad, Like a Virgin: How Science Is Redesigning the Rules of Sex (Oneworld Publications, 2012)


Week 1: Course introduction

Jan. 7: Fundamentals: How do we define reproduction? What are reproductive rights?

Week 2: Birth control, past and present

Jan. 12: The history and politics of birth control

Question to consider: Margaret Sanger wanted women to escape “slave maternity”: she believed that women could never be free until they gained control over their own reproductive capacities. However, her arguments in Woman and the New Race differ in key respects from those of contemporary feminists, who generally not only support access to birth control, but also believe that women benefit from access to safe and legal abortion. How do Margaret Sanger’s views in this document reflect the particular historical context in which she wrote?

Jan. 14: Contemporary debates: Redefining hormonal birth control as abortion

Week 3: Defining Pronatalism and Eugenics, Past and Present 

Jan. 19: Pronatalism and antinatalism

  • Cornelie Usborne, “‘Pregnancy Is a Woman’s Active Service’: Pronatalism in Germany during World War I,” in The Upheaval of War: Family, Work and Welfare in Europe, 1914-1918, ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998, 389-416 (access on e-reserves)
  • Leslie King, “Demographic Trends, Pronatalism, and Nationalist Ideologies in the late Twentieth Century,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 25:3 (2010): 367-389 (access on e-reserves)

Jan. 21: Eugenics

  • Alexandra Minna Stern, “Beauty is not always better: perfect babies and the tyranny of paediatric norms,” Patterns of Prejudice 36:1 (2007): 68-78  (access on e-reserves)
  • Lisa Handwerker, “The Politics of Making Modern Babies in China: Reproductive Technologies and the ‘New’ Eugenics,” in Infertility around the Globe: New Thinking on Childlessness, Gender and Reproductive Technologies, ed. Marcia C. Inhorn and Frank van Balen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002): 298-314  (access on e-reserves)

Week 4: Population Control in the 1960s-1980s

Jan. 26: Paul R. Ehrlich and The Population Bomb

Jan. 28: Population Control in India

  • Matthew Connelly, “Population Control in India: Prologue to the Emergency Period,” Population and Development Review 32:4 (2006): 629-67 (access on e-reserves)

Week 5: The History and Politics of Abortion

Feb. 2: History of abortion in the U.S. 

PAPER OPTION #1 DUE: The campaign Margaret Sanger launched in the early 20th century to make birth control legal and accessible sought to grant women greater control over their own lives. In contrast, the population control movement of the 1960s and 1970s was remarkably silent on the question of women and their rights. How can we explain this? In other words, how would you characterize the relationship between feminism and the population control movement? (Suggestion: One way you might begin to approach this question is to scrutinize Sanger’s arguments and then ask yourself which of her arguments were adopted by the population control movement and which were not.)

  • Leslie J. Reagan, “‘About to Meet Her Maker,’” Journal of American History 78 (1991): 1240-64 (access on e-reserves)

Feb. 4: Contemporary abortion politics

  • Ross Douthat on Planned Parenthood funding and abortion, part 1 and part 2

Week 6: Ultrasounds, Genetic Testing and Representations of the Fetus


Feb. 11: Amniocentesis and genetic testing

  • Rayna Rapp, “Constructing Amniocentesis: Maternal and Medical Discourses,” in Uncertain Terms: Negotiating Gender in American Culture, ed. Faye Ginsburg and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Boston: Beacon Press, 28-42 (access on e-reserves)

Week 7: Culture and the Medicalization of Childbearing

Feb. 16: Pregnancy

  • Tsipy Ivry, “‘We Are Pregnant: Israeli Men and the Paradoxes of Sharing” (access on NOTE: Download for easier reading.

Feb. 18: Childbirth

  • Patricia Jasen, “Race, Culture, and the Colonization of Childbirth in Northern Canada,” Social History of Medicine 10:3 (1997): 383-400
  • Rebecca Jo Plant, “‘The Perfect Painless Labor’: The Natural Childbirth Movement in the Mid-Twentieth-Century U.S.,” Mothers and History, special issue of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative 5:1 (Spring/Summer 2014): 148-60. (access on NOTE: It may say “Currently being converted,” but Just hit the Download button and it should work.
  • Paula A. Michaels, “Comrades in the Labor Room: The Lamaze Method of Childbirth Preparation and France’s Cold War Home Front, 1951–1957,” American Historical Review 115:4 (2010): 1031-60 (e-reserves)

Week 8: Technology and Infertility

Feb. 23: Infertility and NRTs: The case of the Middle East

PAPER OPTION #2 DUE:  Human reproduction involves widely shared biological experiences. But if large numbers of women and men in all cultures reproduce, the ways in which they experience conception, pregnancy, and childbirth differ quite dramatically. This is especially evident when we consider how various cultures have responded to the new possibilities introduced by assisted reproductive technologies. Discuss and analyze the mediating role of culture in transforming biological events and scientific advancements in human experiences.

Feb. 25: Surrogacy

  • Twine, Outsourcing the Womb

Week 9: The Future of Reproduction

Mar. 1: Changing gender roles and Whole Woman’s Health

  • Prasad, Like a Virgin, prologue and chaps. 6-7

Mar. 3:  Brave new frontiers (NO SLIDES)

  • Prasad, Like a Virgin, chaps. 8-9, epilogue

Week 10: Adoption and the creation of “non-traditional” families

Mar. 8: Homosexuality and reproductive rights

Mar. 10: Adoption

  • Laura Briggs, “Mother, Child, Race, Nation: The Visual Iconography of Rescue and the Politics of Transnational and Transracial Adoption,” Gender & History 15: 2(August 2003): 179–200 (access on course reserves)

TAKE-HOME FINAL EXAM DUE ON THURSDAY, MARCH 17: Please write 3-4 pages on each of the following questions. Cite course readings in short-form style (Prasad, 101). Provide full citations for any additional materials you choose to draw upon.

  1. Focusing on the U.S. case, discuss how women’s experiences in relationship to reproduction (birth control, pregnancy, childbirth) have evolved over time. Consider the impact of such factors as scientific and medical developments, changing family formations, and political movements.
  1. Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationally, pro-life activists have mobilized to curb or overturn  women’s constitutional right to abortion, while pro-choice forces have fought to protect it. Sketch out the history of this struggle, ending with Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstadt, the case currently under consideration by the Supreme Court. Analyze the arguments and tactics that both sides have employed. [Optional: If you had to venture a prediction, what do you think the future portends in regard to abortion rights?]