“Sexual Political Economies of Slavery and Abortion” Lecture

| Contributing Writer

Professor Adrienne Davis speaking in her lecture. Screenshot courtesy of Chloe Carlish*


As part of the new “Politics of Reproduction” course, law professor Dr. Adrienne Davis led a guest lecture, “Sexual Political Economies of Slavery and Abortion,” on Sept. 19.

In the lecture, Davis draws comparisons between antebellum fugitive slave laws that allowed for the capture of runaway slaves, and the recent Dobbs ruling that restricts travel between states for reproductive care. She also discussed the fractions between city and state governments on a person’s right to cross state borders for abortion care and on punishments for people who assist those who cross those borders.

While she believes that the current events are not equal to slavery, Davis sees a parallel between the abortion laws and slave codes in their attempt to restrict travel for abortion access and reproductive health care.

“Enslaving states sought to impose their values of Black subordination onto free states,” Davis said. “In this instance, anti-choice states want to impose their values of restricting women and birthing people’s access onto other states.”

With her research focus on the Black woman’s experience, Davis pointed out that the contesting of rights is not a new obstacle for Black women.

“There has been an ongoing struggle between Black women and the state over Black women’s reproductive autonomy,” Davis said. “This includes abortion, but it is bigger than abortion.”

In the wake of the Dobbs ruling, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones allocated $1 million to help cover the costs of accessing abortion care. Simultaneously, the state of Missouri has banned abortion unless the health of the mother is threatened. An ongoing legal battle between the city and state began with Mayor Jones’ bill that St. Louis will likely lose, but it provides an “important signal,” said Davis.

On the national level, protecting the right to cross state lines for abortion care split the Republican Party but did not pass in the Senate. Davis made it clear in her lecture that while abortion is a complex moral subject, the rights of an individual to travel between states should be protected. 

“To me it’s just terrifying,” Davis said. “I don’t know how to distinguish it from the fugitive slave laws.”

Moving forward, Davis hopes that students will continue to talk about traveling for reproductive healthcare, bringing attention to the issue at all levels.

“In terms of advocacy and activism, get involved, however you can and however you feel comfortable,” Davis said. “The University community, St. Louis community, and national communities all need your voice and help.”

Davis hopes that “Sexual Political Economies of Slavery and Abortion” has shown students that reproductive healthcare is an intersectional issue.

“Abortion access is crucial as a matter of not only gender but race and class equity.”



*Note from the Photography Editor

The decision to run a screenshot of a Zoom meeting next to a news article is an effort to represent the changed and changing nature of human interaction in a post-COVID-19 world. We considered taking a portrait of the speaker outside of the meeting: this more traditional approach omits the facts of the article’s subject. The Zoom screenshot is an experiment and an attempt, not a final answer. I hope it both gives a more appropriate representation of what occurred — potentially at the cost of aesthetic intrigue — while also raising questions about what might end up being sacrificed in the name of accuracy, and how media can reflect an increasingly digital world.

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