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November 2, 2022 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm EDT

Speaker Series: Renée Cramer

Law, Politics & Society, Drake University
Birthing a Movement - Reproductive Justice, Midwives, and Disciplinary Authority
Hybrid: Virtual/In-Person (ABF Offices, 750 N Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor Chicago, IL)

Midwives in the United States live and work in a complex regulatory environment that is a direct result of state and medical intervention into women’s reproductive capacity. Currently, professional midwives are legal and regulated in their practice in 32 states and illegal in eight, where their practice could bring felony convictions and penalties that include imprisonment. In the remaining ten states, Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) are unregulated, but nominally legal. Midwives and their clients engage in various forms of legal and political mobilization—at times simultaneous, and at times inconsistent—to facilitate access to care, autonomy in childbirth, and the articulation of women’s authority in reproduction. This talk draws on over a decade of ethnographic and archival research to examine the interactions of law, politics, and activism surrounding midwifery care, and provides narratives from midwives across the country, parsing out the often-paradoxical priorities with which they must engage—seeking formal professionalization, advocating for reproductive justice, and resisting state-centered approaches.  

Our conversation will bring together several literatures not frequently in conversation with one another, on regulation, mobilization, health policy, and gender.  While midwifery care and reproductive justice form the heart of the presentation, I am also interested in the ways that professional practice and disciplinary knowledge are figured and constituted – and will draw parallels between the professionalization of midwifery, and the socialization and disciplinary professionalization undertaken by associations like Law and Society, and organizations like the American Bar Foundation.   


Renée Cramer earned her Ph.D. in Politics from New York University in 2001. Since 2004, she has been engaged in ethnographic and participant-observation field work with homebirth midwives, advocates for midwifery, and families who have had out-of-hospital births. Her book on this work, tentatively titled Attending to Birth: Expanding the Margins of Reproductive Care, is under contract with Stanford University Press. Stanford published her most recent book,  Pregnant with the Star: Watching and Wanting the Celebrity Baby Bump in 2015.

She teaches a wide range of Law, Politics and Society classes at Drake University. Her special topics courses include Law and Social Change, Reproductive Law and Politics; Critical Race and Feminist Legal Theory; and Contemporary American Indian Law and Politics, which draws on her prior research on federal tribal acknowledgment.  Her first book, on that topic, was published in 2005 by University of Oklahoma Press, under the title Cash, Color, and Colonialism: The Politics of Tribal Acknowledgment, and re-released in paperback in 2008.  Professor Cramer directs The Slay Fund for Social Justice, and served, for the 2018/2019 academic year, as Faculty Senate President.