By Ellen Goldbaum
Published October 13, 2023
Buffalo is no stranger to the abortion debate. In the early 1990s, hundreds of members from the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue flooded the city from around the country to stage protests at Buffalo clinics; they’d been invited by the city’s then anti-abortion mayor, Jimmy Griffin.
On Oct. 23, 1998, in what prosecutors labelled an “act of religious terrorism,” local obstetrician-gynecologist Barnett Slepian was shot dead in his suburban Buffalo kitchen by an anti-abortion activist.
With that violent history in mind, and in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, UB faculty, students and staff began gathering to discuss how to grapple with the many repercussions of the Supreme Court’s decision.
The idea first surfaced last fall at a meeting of UB’s DoctHERS, a Buffalo-based network of women physicians, scientists, residents and students working to promote equal opportunities for future generations of women in medicine. Participants were talking about Dobbs and how to fathom the breadth of its impact; then they reached out to get more perspectives from community leaders, activists, students and alumni.
The result is “Reproductive Justice Post-Dobbs: It’s Not Just Abortion,” a conference being held from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 and 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Oct. 21. Both days' sessions, which are free and open to the public, will take place at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, 955 Main St., Buffalo. A full agenda can be found online; attendees should register here.
Organizers say it is a sad and unintentional coincidence that the conference is being held almost exactly 25 years after Slepian was shot.
Keynote speakers are:
Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, will make welcoming remarks on Friday, to be followed by an introduction to Buffalo’s role in the reproductive justice movement by Lucinda M. Finley, Raichle Professor of Law in the School of Law.
Panels and breakout sessions include:
“Many conferences on these topics are primarily for academics,” Finley explains. “What makes our conference different is that it brings together community-based activists and health care providers, doulas, midwives and physicians serving women of color in Buffalo, with faculty researchers and students.
“We want to educate people in the community about what academia is doing,” she says, “but we realize that we have a vast amount to learn from them, from the people who are on the front lines of this work and who understand all the financial and social barriers that are faced by the people most impacted.”
The conference topic is reproductive justice, which, Finley notes, is much broader than reproductive rights.
“Reproductive justice is about the big picture, the right to have a child safely and healthfully — or not — and that if you do have children, you have the right to raise them in safe and healthy communities,” she says. “Reproductive justice looks at the interconnections between maternal and infant health, and the crisis of the particularly appalling rates of death and injury for women of color, and at the conditions under which women are punished for being pregnant, when, for example, they may have a substance abuse problem.”
Fittingly, the main keynote speaker, Loretta Ross, is the mother of the concept of reproductive justice who gave voice to these issues and helped found reproductive justice as a movement.
Thaddeus (Ted) P. Waters, MD, Amol S. Lele Professor and chief of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, will join with local birth-equity activists and doulas to discuss “Racial Inequities in Maternal and Infant Health,” which will be moderated by Gale R. Burstein, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics and Erie County health commissioner.
Finley will join Sarah L. Berga, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Jacobs School and president of UBMD Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Athena Mutua, professor and Floyd H. & Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar in the School of Law, and others to discuss “Medical, Legal and Social Implications of Dobbs.”
In addition to Finley, Berga and Burstein, co-organizers of the conference include Dori R. Marshall, MD, associate professor of psychiatry in the Jacobs School and CMO of Oishei Children’s Hospital, and Katharine Morrison, a Jacobs School alumna and head of Buffalo Women Services. Community providers of doula and other birthing services, as well as state and local government representatives, also contributed to planning the conference.
The conference is sponsored by the Jacobs School, the UB Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, UB’s Gender Institute, Buffalo Women Services, the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women and private donations.