WGS Spring Conference puts reproductive justice center stage


By Victoria Reyna Rodriguez

Dr. Lina-Maria Murillo shares her presentation of reproductive justice at the Iowa State Women’s and Gender Studies Spring Conference on Saturday.

Matt Belinson

The Iowa State Women’s and Gender Studies program hosted its annual spring conference Saturday, with topics ranging from examining research, creative work, and/or thematic pieces on feminism, sexuality and gender across Iowa.

The conference, titled “Mobilizing the Intersections of Power and Justice,” took place at the Student Innovation Center and featured over 20 presentations from students and academic minds across the state.

The keynote speaker for the event, Dr. Lina-Maria Murillo, examined reproductive activism and health care provisions in Iowa in her presentation, “Reproductive Justice Now!: A Historical Approach.”

Murillo, an assistant professor in the departments of gender, women’s, and sexuality studies, history, and Latina/o/x studies at the University of Iowa, focused her talk on reproductive access and health care

“Reproductive justice really is reproduction and social justice brought together,” Murillo said.

Murillo explained reproductive rights involve removing barriers in society towards access to abortion and contraception. But rights don’t mean these systems are guaranteed. That’s where reproductive justice comes in.

Murillo introduced her presentation by saying women have the right to bodily autonomy, right to have and not have children and to parent in safe and sustainable communities.

But for many historians, Murillo said there’s been a narrative that Chicana activists along the U.S., Mexico border haven’t cared about reproductive rights throughout history due to strict religious practices. Catholicism has strong roots in the Mexican community and many hold the belief that keeps Chicanas and Mexican people from supporting or involving themselves with reproductive issues.

Chicana is a term used for women of Mexican American decent that came about in the 1960s for women to align themselves with radical movements decades prior of power and indigenous movements.

Murillo said it’s important to think in a scholarly way about reproductive health, power and justice, and to acknowledge Chicana activists’ role in fighting for reproductive justice.

Birth control was long viewed as a cure-all for overpopulation in Hispanic communities and the lack of information led women and mothers toward bad decisions and unprepared resources.

Murillo said in many communities, birth control and reproductive issues were layered with tension between choice and coercion in the 1960s and 70s.

So, how does this historical view of Chicanas and the Hispanic population’s fight to receive reproductive justice help us today?

Murillo said with Roe vs Wade in jeopardy in the coming months from the U.S. Supreme Court, Iowans must be prepared for the possible affects towards reproductive rights and gaining justice for them.

“I feel as though, often times the abortion issue is framed is that it’s only people who are pregnant or only for people that this matters to,” Murillo said. “It should matter to all of us.”

Going forward, Murillo said it’s about creating networks of reproductive justice from marginalized communities, or even tapping into existing tools to prepare for what’s coming for women and their bodies.

“The President of the supreme court in Mexico came out and said, ‘the reason we are decriminalizing abortion in Mexico because fundamentally, it is violence against women and girls,” Murillo said.

Murillo said across Iowa and the United States, the increase in denying people access to health care is fundamentally violent. Outrage comes when water, food or basic health care is denied.

Soon, Murillo said outrage won’t be enough to stop the impact.

“So, what does reproductive justice look like in Iowa once Roe falls?” Murillo said. “It is a cascade of denial and violence.”

Along with the keynote from Murillo, three other sessions throughout the day included conversations on gender, sexuality and how to move forward with positive spaces for all.

The first session of the day focused on communities and safe spaces, politicized bodies and crafting culture.

Multiple presenters examined accessibility to resources and power, specifically how women throughout history have faced barriers when it comes to making decisions for themselves about their own bodies or choices.

Community support was also addressed in the opening session of the conference, with students from Iowa State presenting on the Iowa State Food Pantry, along with a later presentation later about community-supported agriculture for marginalized communities.

Further on in session one, Peter Larsen from University of Iowa tackled the issue of Black women’s hair and the history of discrimination and control over their look.

Larsen addressed this history in his presentation, “The Politics of Natural Hairstyles: A cultural and legal history.”

Session two centered around inclusion, improved access and changing to different forms of femininity, including those outside the gender binary.

The session started with “Access and Inclusion: the Diversity of Disability,” by Iowa State University Student Accessibility Services. The presentation focused on presenting disability as an area to improve access needs, rather than medical impairments.

Two other presentations focused on collaboration across feminism and how to create inclusion in schools.

Britt Jungck’s presentation, “Reframing Pedagogy: Exploring nontraditional teaching practices to create more representative classrooms,” and David Wahl’s, “ADVANCE Midwest Partnership: How to build a collaborative, cross-institutional partnership,” showed how Midwestern universities and schools can improve for all communities.

The final session of the afternoon was about masculinity norms and creating feminist change across Iowa. Presentations focused on anti-hierarchy behavior and creating new forms of community in industry and beyond.

One project titled, “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal,” demonstrated constructions of white masculinity and how race, masculinity, sexuality and the body crafted alongside pig farming and pork in Iowa.