Thought about Breastfeeding and Civil Liberties

Breastfeeding is known for being an extremely politicized issue. Past decades introduced us to different interest groups advocating for and against the ideal of “Breast is best”. A recent book by Courtney Jung called ‘Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy’ describes how the ideal of breastfeeding became a focal point of consensus among conflicting political groups like environmentalists and capitalists, leftists and conservatives and many more. The book reveals troubling regulatory schemes which sanction non-breastfeeding moms by denying benefits and iron rich food for their babies. This pattern of body governance echoes Dorothy Roberts’ book ‘Killing the Black Body’ which described how procreation decisions made by poor-black-women, are constantly sanctioned and regulated by the state in order to achieve social objectives, for example, by conditioning welfare benefits in an installation of permanent contraceptives.

In Roberts’ book, a clear distinction is made with respect to the reproductive liberty of black and white women. The contraceptive pill, which symbolizes the emblem of reproductive freedom and is highly identified with the feminist movement, was the product of a scientific endeavor greatly motivated by conservative groups’ desire to control population through family planning schemes, historically targeting the fertility of poor black women. In a similar way, the ideal of “breast is best” has also been operating differently with respect to race and economic status. In Linda Blum’s bookAt the Breast: Ideologies of Breastfeeding and Motherhood in Contemporary United States’ she conducts interviews with women who didn’t nurse. She found that in contrast to white women who strove for outer respectability and experienced their lack of breastfeeding as a failure to conform with the breastfeeding imperative, black women emphasized their use in feeding instruments as significant for their independence which was highly evaluated. Accordingly, statistics show generally lower breastfeeding rates among black women in the US.

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‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry

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This week, we interviewed Guian McKee, an Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of Virginia. Guian received a Ph.D. in American history at the University of California, Berkeley in May 2002. His research interests include U.S. social policy history and urban history. He is the author of The Problem of Jobs: Liberalism, Race, and Deindustrialization in Philadelphia, published in November 2008 by the University of Chicago Press. He also recently published an article in the Washington Post on the political economy of health in Baltimore.

Nic and Frank began with a discussion of the FTC’s Big Data report. We also discussed developments in Medicaid policy in Kentucky and other states, and the politicization of meaningful use.

Our discussion with Guian questioned some conventional narratives about health care costs. Frank discussed the hidden costs of health care cost-cutting, and Guian confirmed that “med and eds” have been at the center of many urban policy proposals in the wake of deindustrialization. Nic and Guian discussed the importance of addressing overutilization. And the conversation ended on a hopeful note about automation complementing, rather than replacing, human professionals.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher RadioTunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw