QU Culture, WGS program spotlight abortion intersectionality

Cat Murphy and Samantha Nunez

Amid renewed conversations about the right to bodily autonomy in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Quinnipiac University students and faculty members led a collaborative symposium on abortion intersectionality on Feb. 17.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization inspired QU Culture leaders Helen Tran and Satine Berntsen to organize the symposium to educate community members on the intersectional ramifications of the decision.

“We were so angry, and we wanted to do something,” said Berntsen, vice president of the student organization and a junior philosophy and film, television and media arts double major. “And we know that in the academic space it’s really easy to just fall into academic language and start separating academics and theory from reality.”

Hosted jointly by QU Culture and the Women’s and Gender Studies department, the symposium featured a series of presentations and interactive discussions about intersectionality as it pertains to reproductive healthcare in the post-Roe era.

“I think that part of what has enabled the overturning of Roe vs. Wade is the unwillingness of people to speak about abortion,” said Kim O’Neill, associate professor of English and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program. “My hope is that by talking about it as necessary medical care and by talking about it intersectionally … we can work toward a more just future.”

Notably, a Public Safety officer patrolled the symposium. O’Neill told the Chronicle that the officer was there at her request to help de-escalate the situation “if someone came to disrupt the event.”

“This is an academic event, and I didn’t expect there to be anti-abortion protests,” O’Neill said. “But we are living in a climate … in which people commit mass shootings on college campuses.”

Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, associate professor of legal studies and chair of justice and law, opened the two-hour presentation portion of the symposium with an introductory discussion about the right to privacy and the implications of the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling.

Undergraduate students Qadira Shaw, Alyssa Arends, Erin Mullane and Genesis Paulino and third-year law student Meghan Doyle each gave presentations on various aspects of abortion intersectionality.

“There’s a lot to talk about here with the biases of sameness,” said Arends, a junior political science major, as part of a presentation about finding strength in difference. “We often look to what makes us similar in terms of solidarity instead of what makes us different.”

Mullane, a senior history major, read a poem titled “The Body Politic Poem.”

“Performing life in a female-presenting body is a precarious thing,” Mullane said. “To leave the house in the morning constricted by caution tape, hoping it binds your breasts close enough to your chest that the men on the street keep their mouths shut today.”

Faculty members Ari Perez, associate professor of civil engineering; Laura Willis, associate professor of health and strategic communication; and Jaime Ullinger, director of anthropology, also gave presentations on human rights, communicating about abortion and the anthropology of abortion, respectively.

This is an academic event, and I didn’t expect there to be anti-abortion protests,” O’Neill said. “But we are living in a climate … in which people commit mass shootings on college campuses.

— Kim O'Neill, associate professor of English and director of the Women's and Gender Studies program

O’Neill also briefly discussed abortion access in Connecticut, a state in which abortion is generally only legal at or after the point of fetal viability if it is considered medically necessary.

“We often assume that abortions are still easily accessible here in this blue state, and, to Professor Gadkar-Wilcox’s point earlier, I would say not exactly,” O’Neill said. “In Connecticut, this legal standard creates complications that prolong the waiting period and endanger the health of people with non viable or medically dangerous pregnancies.”

Attendees also had the opportunity to participate in a small group discussion following the presentations.

“Although I’ve done work like this for decades, I continually realize there’s some things I didn’t think about,” said William Jellison, professor of psychology and women’s and gender studies, during the group discussion. 

Shannon Corbo, junior sociology major, emphasized the importance of intersectional education.

“For me, I think it’s kind of a moral right to learn more about this type of thing,” Corbo said. “I know a lot about abortion rights and reproductive rights, but I still think it’s important to show up and show my support.”

Ari Hyman, a senior political science major and a group discussion leader, told the Chronicle she believed discussions about abortion intersectionality have become particularly relevant in the post-Roe era.

“If one person has this problem, no matter where they are in the country, it is your problem,” Hyman said.