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“An Obligation and a Conviction to Work for Women Less Fortunate than I Am”: Joan Dunlop, Women’s Reproductive Rights, and the Work of the Population CouncilNovember 9, 2022
This report details my research trip to the Rockefeller Archive Center in July 2016. My research agenda was to analyse the work of the Population Council, as a case study through which to explore the ways in which American non-governmental actors could negotiate a decolonising, Cold War world. I was interested in how philanthropic organisations work as spaces determined by "values" and how these "values" might both shape and be shaped by encounters with the wider world, especially actors and communities in the Global South. My focus on the Population Council also led me to explore particularly the work of Joan Dunlop, and her role in determining American NGO-led policy towards the role of women in the Global South, particularly focusing on the issue of reproductive rights.
"God Bless the Pill: Contraception and Sexuality in Tri-Faith America" charts the illuminating and unexpectedly complex history of the contemporary debate over abortion, contraception, and religious freedom. For the contemporary period, we think of battles over contraception as occurring between conservative Christians (Protestant and Catholic) and secular Americans. However, these debates have a much more diverse religious history in which liberal Protestants and Jews played a prominent role. For instance, in 1958, the chairman of the New York City municipal hospital system prevented a Jewish doctor from providing a diabetic Protestant woman with the contraception she needed to prevent a life-threatening pregnancy. In response, the New York metropolitan area's Jewish and Protestant clergy launched a campaign that changed hospital policy. This two-month-long public relations battle used both arguments about religious freedom and theological and halakhic defenses of contraception. Theirs were not the first religious voices to speak publicly for contraceptive access, but they set the tone for a public alliance between Jews and Protestants against more conservative Catholic teaching on the pill and shifted much of the debate from the morality of contraception to contraceptive decisions as an arena for religious freedom.
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