National Bodies and the New Eugenics: A Public Health Vigilance Model Open Access

Pilatsky, Allison Laura (2015)

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The historic roots of eugenic discrimination run deep within American political culture and scientific institutions and during the 20th century over 65,000 Americans were coercively sterilized in keeping with scientific understandings of racial fitness. Disabled people and people living in poverty were also swept up as eugenic legislation and informal practices spread. This paper follows up on this history by posing the question, how can we interpret contemporary reproductive health management as a direct descendent of eugenics? By examining the evolution of pregnancy oversight practices and the increasing emphasis placed on prenatal diagnostic, this paper argues that contemporary interventions increasingly depend on a model of public health vigilance. The public health vigilance model places pressure on women to pursue multiple phases of prenatal testing, to terminate pregnancies viewed as unfit, and has resulted in the legal concept of wrongful birth. This framework functions alongside ongoing reproductive abuse in the American prison system, punitive family cap policies for social welfare programs, and a cultural vision of the ideal mother that excludes large sections of the population. Challenging this exclusivity and the deprivation of social goods for the most marginalized demands an approach to reproduction that refuses racist and ableist hierarchies and emphasizes improved social services that enable women to pursue motherhood on their own terms instead of within a narrow maternal ideal.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Revealing Plea Bargain

Eugenics In Development: Galton's Science Crosses the Atlantic

Eugenics and Public Health from 'Solutions' to Abuses

The New Eugenics: Creating a Public Health Crisis

National Bodies, National Policies: How the State Controls Reproductive Freedom

The Cure Ideology: Preventing the Undesirable Body

Conclusion: The New Eugenics and Exclusionary Visions of the Maternal


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