Cassia Roth

Apr 10, 2020

A Miscarriage of Justice

Women’s Reproductive Lives and the Law in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil

Stanford University Press 2020

While the negotiation of ideals of nationhood and citizenship have traditionally fallen under the purview of landmark court decisions, state reforms, and the political exigencies of statesmen, Cassia Roth's new book A Miscarriage of Justice: Women’s Reproductive Lives and the Law in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil (Stanford University Press, 2020) chooses to tell a different story. Rather than centering the grand, Roth honors the everyday lived experiences of the women who sought to control their own reproductive opportunities. Focused in post-abolition (1888) and post-imperial (1889) Rio de Janeiro, A Miscarriage of Justice highlights the specific cases and idiosyncratic circumstances of the women who sought to exercise control over their own fertility. Using a plethora of source material – medical reports, court cases, police files – Cassia Roth demonstrates how women became both the harbingers of the new, republican Brazil whilst being concomitantly denied rights of full citizenship. In Rio de Janeiro, the realm of fertility control became not only eminently medicalized but also strikingly criminalized. While physicians frequently policed women’s bodies and their stories about their own reproductive misfortunes, police authorities were frequently called to decide on the legitimacy of a miscarriage. In either case, the book highlights how despite the surveillance mentality instituted, neither physicians nor state authorities – the police, courts, the state – did very little to improve the actual living conditions, services, and reproductive outcomes of Brazilian women. This is a book which will elicit interest in scholars of Latin America, in addition to anyone keen to read more about the intersection between gender, race, reproductive justice.

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