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Notre Dame hosts lecture on reproductive health disparities

| Monday, February 20, 2023

Notre Dame hosted “Reproductive Health Disparities & Injustice” Friday afternoon. The event was sponsored by the gender studies program and the Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values and was the first in a year-long series, “Reproductive Justice: Talks for Solidarity and Social Change.”

Speakers included: associate professor Elena Rebeca Gutiérrez; associate director of health equity and overseer of the Community Health Worker program Taylor Martin; writer and activist Miriam Zoila Pérez; and BASE Doula program coordinator Marchelle A. Pettit.

Gutiérrez is a scholar of reproductive health. Scholars of reproductive health have shown how poor, disabled and other marginalized groups continue to face unequal and discriminatory treatment in regard to their reproductive rights.

“We can see that reproductive justice demands access to not only adequate and culturally proficient medical care, but also access to living in a healthy environment, shelter, food, rest and work. It includes freedom from racial violence and oppression,” Gutiérrez said.

Gutiérrez noted the framework of reproductive justice.

“The reproductive justice framework insists that we account for how all of these systems and more work together in different ways and in different circumstances to limit the so-called choices that people have to determine their own reproductive lives,” she said. 

Martin discussed policies in Indiana and the message that statistics show about the state. 

“The statistics and policies I will share with you today show that those in power at Indiana, at best, fail to see how reproductive health is directly tied to the well being of other residents,” Martin said. “Or at worst, they’re not concerned about the well-being of those who trust them and ask them to vote on things that will impact their lives.”

Martin discussed the difficulties involved in obtaining contraception.

“Recognizing equity, not everyone can get to the doctor, not everybody has insurance. Not everybody has the means to take time off work to go at a very specific time of day into a doctor’s office. Transportation is [also] difficult,” she said.

She also noted the need for increased sexual education in Indiana. 

“The lack of education around sexual health accounts for Indiana ranking 14th-highest for teen pregnancies,” Martin said.

Martin described the higher risks Black women experience during childbirth.

“There’s no reason for myself as a Black woman, or any other Black woman, to be at 93% risk, and that does not matter of age or income or education level,” she said. “I as a Black woman have a higher risk of dying in Indiana due to pregnancy or related to pregnancy than any white individual in the state with infant mortality.”

The statistics in Indiana, according to Perez, are not the exception.

“That is the situation in many parts of the country, even in places like New York City, somewhere you might imagine would be a more liberal sort of place you might imagine people of color would have better health outcomes,” she said.

“There’s similarly horrifically high rates of things like maternal mortality, especially for Black folks, Black women, in comparison to their white counterparts,” she added.

Pérez also discussed racism and its connection to health outcomes. 

“Racism in the United States is that people of color experience that kind of stress all of the time, from even just the threat of experiencing racism or discrimination. And there’s really great research about this showing that the threatened disRose Androwich | The Observercrimination feeling, like you’re concerned you’re going to be discriminated against, has a negative impact on your health,” Pérez said.

Pettit also discussed the struggles Black patients face in healthcare settings. Oppressive systems and policies directly impact the Black community, Pettit said.

“The truth is, Black women’s voices, historically speaking, have always been silenced. Our bodies have always been policed,” she said.

“We know from medical research through the years that it’s often perceived that Black people have a higher tolerance for pain. ‘Black people have thicker skin,’ so we’re prescribed less pain medications than our white counterparts,” she said.

The next event in the series is March 20 and will discuss the intersections between transgender healthcare and abortion.

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About Rose Androwich

Rose Androwich is a junior majoring in creative writing with minors in journalism and English literature. Rose grew up in Berwyn, IL. Outside of The Observer Rose enjoys drinking lattes, writing, and discussing literature. Rose can be reached at [email protected].

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