Category Archives: law

Referendum on a Life in the Woods

For three decades, my dad’s brothers framed houses. The three of them had a small construction business in rural Connecticut. The eldest sometimes led projects as a general contractor, and other times they worked as subcontractors.

With their skills and their self-made business, they also built cozy, modest houses for themselves. That part of Connecticut isn’t wealthy. They and their neighbors worked hard to pull together comfortable homes out of a limited rural job market, relatively inexpensive real estate, and a frugal lifestyle…

Like many small businesses, my uncles’ construction firm didn’t have health insurance…What would Obamacare have meant to them, and to their lives?…

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Is Your Doctor Experimenting On You?

My friend’s father is in the hospital, and it’s been rough. His cancer treatment did not go as expected. “He’s suffering so much!” my friend sighed. “And the doctors, they’re just experimenting on him. It’s horrible.” When I heard this, I was confused. Was her father in some sort of experimental treatment? “No. But the doctors told us that once he had this treatment, he’d have another five good years, at least. The chemo was awful, but it was supposed to be worth it. It turns out he’s still sick with cancer, and I feel terrible that we put him through that torture. The doctors said they didn’t know why it didn’t work. It’s like they’re just experimenting.”

When I heard my friend’s story, I had a powerful feeling of déjà vu. Her narrative sounded just like letters I had found from the 1960s in Harvard Medical School’s archives…

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Are We Free to Be President Yet? The Legacy of Pat Schroeder and 1970s Feminism

I was born into 1970s feminism. I came into the world in 1972, the year Free to Be You and Me came out. It must have made a big impression on my elementary school teachers, because I saw the filmstrip version of it in school at least three times. I loved it at least as much as my teachers did. I loved the skit in which two babies, played by Marlo Thomas and Mel Brooks, try to figure out which of them is the boy and which is the girl. After much deliberation, they decide that the brave, impatient one who wants to be a firefighter must be the boy. (Of course they’re wrong.) I can still sing along with Rosey Grier’s rendition of “It’s Alright to Cry” in my head…

1972 was also the year that Pat Schroeder, a young lawyer from Denver, first ran for Congress…

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Playwright Alice Eve Cohen Asks Us to Reconsider What We Think We Know about Pregnancy and Motherhood

“What makes a mother real?” asks writer and performer Alice Eve Cohen in her newly-published play, What I Thought I Knew. In 1999, Cohen experienced the most improbably and bizarrely complicated pregnancy imaginable. Her play is a crystallization of her stranger-than-fiction pregnancy memoir that was acclaimed at its 2009 publication with book-of-the-year awards from Salon to Oprah. Cohen’s saga touches on an amazing range of twentieth-century reproductive history and politics, from the birth defects caused by the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) prescribed to pregnant women in the 1950s, to surgical approaches to intersex, to “wrongful life” litigation. Through it all, she never lets her audience rest on their assumptions about motherhood…

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Enforcing Death Rituals after Miscarriage is Just Plain Cruel

The Indiana legislature claims it wants to protect unborn children and their parents. Last week Governor Mike Pence gave his blessing to a new bill aimed primarily at restricting abortion but also addressing miscarriage, explaining, “I sign this legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families.” But knowing what I do about pregnancy and miscarriage, all I can see is increased pain and confusion in store for women who lose pregnancies in Indiana…

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Of Rifles and Responsibility: How Can We Speak to Each Other Across the Gun Control Divide?

As a kid, I loved shooting a rifle with my uncle, out back at my grandmother’s farmhouse. My dad and I would go out with Uncle Bill, in his ubiquitous plaid flannel and hunting cap, and my cousin. We’d set a tin can on a stump. Uncle Bill would show me, holding the rifle firm into the crook of his shoulder and aiming at the can. He mumbled a bit around the cigarette that hung out of the corner of his mouth in those years, before he got scared enough to quit. He explained the basic safety rules for rifles along with how to pull the trigger. He was intimidating: even taller than my dad, big and strong from his work building houses, his expression always slightly askew because of the glass eye he had earned in a bad motorcycle accident as a teenager. His deep, gravelly voice held great authority, and he was serious about doing this safely. You can’t mess around with guns, he’d say. And then he’d give me my chance…

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Obergefell Made History, and History Made Obergefell

History matters. Sober and sophisticated historical research can make a difference in the world. I am proud to live in a nation that now, per the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, recognizes the rights of gay and lesbian Americans to marry their chosen partners. And I am proud to be a member of the historical profession, which provided key evidence and interpretive analysis to the Court.

As a historian, I naturally love documents. When I saw news of the decision on the front pages of the New York Times, I immediately clicked through to the text of the decision, and began reading…

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