By Tom Mashberg

Suffolk Law student Dyana J. Boxley JD ’14 is alarmed by the recent barrage of laws and restrictions that have been aimed squarely at the reproductive rights of American women.

Boxley, president of the Women of Color Law Student Association, also was aware of recent research by the Guttmacher Institute, a public policy research group, that found 205 abortion restrictions alone were put in place in the United States between 2011 and 2013, as compared with 189 in the previous decade. That profusion of legislation, the institute concluded, “has attacked access to abortion from all angles” by targeting providers and clinics, driving up the costs of medical procedures and birth control, forcing women travel farther and wait longer for medical care, and banning abortions outright.

With this in mind, Boxley arranged for a noted expert on race, class and gender inequality, Professor Nancy Ehrenreich of the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver, to visit Suffolk to explain how the new measures disproportionately affect poor women, and poor black women in particular.

Ehrenreich recited a slew of sobering statistics. In one study, two researchers examined 413 cases where American women were either arrested, forced to have Cesarean surgery, sterilized against their will, or otherwise deprived of liberty due to pregnancy. Their study, in the April 2013 “Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law,” found that black women made up 52 percent of those affected by such “coercive interventions,” although African-Americans make up just 13 percent of the population.

Dyana Boxley, left, Professor Nancy Ehrenreich and Suffolk Law Professor Sarah Boonin

Her presentation was called “Reproductive Law & Policy: Connecting the Dots,” Ehrenreich said, because she is studying whether the spectrum of laws and government policies that disparately affect the reproductive lives of poor black women amounts to a “modern racial control system,” one that penalizes them “based on their race and class status.” Racial bias in the law restricts the choices poorer women make before, during and after pregnancies, she said, and subjects them to heightened risk of prosecution.

Important Issue

Boxley, who is studying criminal law, said it was important to focus attention on how “certain groups of individuals continue to be treated as second-class citizens when it comes to accessing basic human rights.”

“There is a misconception that race and gender are no longer issues” of critical legal importance, she said.

“Professor Ehrenreich's talk shed light on many of the egregious racial and gendered injustices that happen all around the country every day,” Boxley added. “The first step in addressing these issues is to inform people of the problem.”

The talk, which drew about 40 students and professors, was held on Feb. 24, 2014 and was co-sponsored by the Nutter Speaker Series for Diversity and Inclusion and a coalition of advocacy groups.