Responding to the Hyde Amendment: Abortion Discourse, Race, and a Conspiracy of Silence
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This research project examines the discourse about abortion and reproductive justice in order to analyze how race shaped politics within the second-wave feminist movement. Specifically, I explore why more black women did not engage in the national debate about abortion in the wake of the 1976 Hyde Amendment, even when restrictive abortion legislation had a disproportionately negative effect on them. Historically, scholarship has focused either on women’s liberation and feminism, or on civil rights and black liberation. This paper, however, connects those themes using an intersectional approach by examining reproductive justice in terms of women’s multiple, intersecting identities, especially race, class, and gender. This multidimensional identity complicated black women’s involvement in the second wave feminist movement, leading to a so-called “conspiracy of silence.” Primary sources, including feminist publications, interviews, and autobiographies reveal that black women were largely absent from the mainstream pro-choice feminist discourse and mobilizations in the 1970s. Their silence and lack of involvement, however, was not because access to abortion was unimportant nor irrelevant to them. Rather, my research suggests that their silence was rooted in complex historical and ideological barriers as well as a failure of the mainstream feminist movement to consider their unique history, needs, and circumstances. This research project draws attention to the historical silences by reading “against the grain” with the aim to shed light on the complicated politics within the second-wave feminist movement and provide a framework for understanding why black women’s voices were silenced in this sphere.