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Focus on the Faculty: Cassia Roth

Alan Flurry

An extraordinary scholar of history and Latin American and Caribbean Studies, assistant professor Cassia Roth brings humility and a passion for scholarship into the classroom:

My work looks at the intersection of medicine and law in women’s reproductive lives. My forthcoming book, “A Miscarriage of Justice: Women’s Reproductive Lives and the Law in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil” (Stanford University Press, 2020), examines the parallel and interconnected processes of the criminalization of abortion and the medicalization of childbirth in Rio de Janeiro. My new research project, titled “Birthing Abolition: Enslaved Women’s Reproduction and the Gradual End of Slavery in the Lusophone [Portuguese-Speaking] World,” looks at how enslaved women’s bodies were ground zero for abolitionist legislation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Portugal and Brazil. My research is empirically based, and I always, whenever possible, center women’s embodied experiences of top-down processes—for instance, the passage of new legislation or the discovery of new medical techniques.

My research on gender and medicine in the Lusophone world thus demonstrates how state policy toward women’s health was formed within specific legal and medical contexts. For example, abortion policy — rather than being a linear progression from a “repressive” past towards a more enlightened future — has gone through waves of criminalization and decriminalization. As such, my research can help elucidate how we must address the continued (re)criminalization of abortion across the hemisphere in relation to each country’s specific legal and medical historical trajectory. In tracing the origins of current-day policy, my research unveils the entrenched historical trends that underpin contemporary debates on gender, reproduction and the state.

So although much of what I write about occurred a century or more ago, I see the reverberations of this history every day. Take, for instance, the new anti-abortion law in Georgia. In my book, I explore how Brazilian officials criminalized women’s miscarriages (involuntary pregnancy losses) in the early 20th century. Today, it seems that our state (and others), as well as countries such as El Salvador, are doing exactly the same thing. Separating families at the border? Well, slaveholding societies (including Brazil and the United States) did that as a matter of everyday policy. I am not saying that we can simply compare these events — we need to understand issues within their correct historical context. However, exploring the historical antecedents to contemporary policies can help us craft ways to better respond to current-day injustices.

Read the entire profile and be inspired by one of our best. UGA and our students wax strong in the hands of dedicated scholars like Dr. Roth.

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