Theses Doctoral

In Whose Hands: The Pregnancy Test in American Life

Robinson, Joan Helen

Forty years ago, when an American woman wanted to know if she was pregnant, she made an appointment with a medical professional who would conduct a pregnancy test and tell her the result. Propelled by the medical establishment’s control, surveillance, and neglect of women’s health, the women’s health movement of the 1970s sought to put women’s health “into their own hands.” Encouraged in part by the rhetoric of the women’s health movement, pregnancy tests became available for purchase over-the-counter, without a prescription, and outside of the control of the medical establishment.
This dissertation examines this passage of the pregnancy test from the hands of medical professionals to the hands of lay people and asks, has the pregnancy test really delivered on its promise to give women information, choice, and control?
We think of women’s reproductive health tools in the hands of doctors as oppressive and in the hands of women as liberating; the central argument of this dissertation is that this view is naïve. Putting the informational power about women’s bodies into a mobile diagnostic technology did not change the nature of the beast. Through this examination of the pregnancy test in American life, we can trace the flow of reproductive power through various people, places, and things to better understand the character of women’s subordination.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Nelson, Alondra
Stark, David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 16, 2018