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Abortion as a Human Right: A Dialogue

Published February 19, 2024

How does viewing abortion through a human rights lens shift our analysis, understanding, and approach to this highly contested issue? What is the relationship between human rights and reproductive justice, and how can these approaches help bridge the diversity of viewpoints about abortion? How might embedding abortion in the human rights framework contribute to the global fight against authoritarianism and in defense of democracy more broadly? 

These and other questions will be considered by a panel of national leaders in the reproductive justice, racial justice, and human rights movements at “Abortion as a Human Right: A Dialogue.” This event will take place on Thursday, March 28, 2024, at 6 p.m. in the Carroll Room, Julia McWilliams Child ’34 Campus Center, and will feature:

  • Byllye Y. Avery, Founder, Black Women’s Health Imperative
  • Amy Hagstrom Miller, Founder, Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinics 
  • Regina Davis Moss, Executive Director, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda
  • Rosalind Petchesky ’64, Distinguished Professor Emerita, Hunter College, and Founder, International Reproductive Rights Research Action Group 
  • Loretta Ross, Associate Professor of the Study of Women & Gender, Smith College and Co-creator of Reproductive Justice Theory

Marlene Gerber Fried, Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Hampshire College and the Founder of Collective Power for Reproductive Justice, will moderate the panel.

This event is organized by fellows in the 2023–24 Kahn Institute long-term project, (Re)visioning Human Rights, Democracy and the Liberal Arts, which serves as an unbounded space for developing new research, teaching, and practice models at the intersection of liberal arts education, human rights, and the future of democracies. 

Sponsored by the Smith College Kahn Institute for Liberal Arts, Smith College Special Collections, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Free and open to the public. All viewpoints are welcome. Light refreshments will be available following the lecture. 

For disability access information or accommodation requests, please call 413-585-2407. To request a sign language interpreter, email at least ten days before the event.

About the Panelists

Byllye Y. Avery

Byllye Y. Avery, founder of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, has been a healthcare activist for 50 years. She co-founded Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need and is featured in PBS’s Makers: Women Who Make America. In the 70’s Avery co-founded two centers in Florida, Gainesville Women's Health Center and Birthplace.

Avery has been the recipient of many awards including: The MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” Essence Award, Academy of Science Institute of Medicine’s Gustav O. Lienhardt Award, Dorothy I. Height Lifetime Achievement Award, President’s Citation American Public Health Association, University of Florida’s School of Medicine Leadership Award, the Chicago Foundation for Women Ruth Bader Ginsberg Impact Award, MA NARAL Champion for Choice, and University of Iowa’s School of Public Health Hansen Award.

Avery served on the Charter Advisory Committee for the Office of Research on Women’s Health of the National Institutes of Health and was a visiting fellow at Harvard School of Public Health. She received honorary degrees from Thomas Jefferson University, State University of New York at Binghamton, Gettysburg College, Bowdoin College, Bates College, Russell Sage College, Simmons College, and the University of California, San Francisco Medal Award.

Avery is currently writing her memoir. She and her wife Ngina Lythcott live in Provincetown.

Marlene Gerber Fried

Marlene Gerber Fried (moderator), a long-time reproductive rights activist/scholar, is well-known nationally and internationally as a writer, lecturer, and advocate for reproductive freedom. She was the founding president of the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) and the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts (ARFWM). Fried taught at Hampshire College for 35 years and was also the Faculty Director of Collective Power for Reproductive Justice (CPRJ). She was the founding director of the Five College Certificate in Reproductive Rights, Health, and Justice and was Interim President of Hampshire College from 2010 to 2011.

Fried is a Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Senior Faculty Advisor, and board member of CPRJ. She is on the board of Women Help Women, an international organization focused on expanding abortion access by providing information, support, and access to abortion pills where abortion is restricted by law. She is also on the Abortion and Contraception Panel for Our Bodies Ourselves Today.

She edited From Abortion to Reproductive Freedom: Transforming a Movement and co-authored Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice and is co-authoring a book with Loretta Ross, Abortion Through a Reproductive Justice Lens.

Amy Hagstrom Miller

Amy Hagstrom Miller is the Founder, President, and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance. The organizations operate holistic abortion care services and work to strategically shift the stigma around abortion in our culture through the provision of abortion care services, education, training, proactive policy, and advocacy. Miller comes to this work from a human rights and justice framework, seeing access to safe abortion care as integral to freedom, equality, and autonomy for all people. She established Whole Woman’s Health in Austin, TX, in 2003 and now manages more than 150 employees and 40 physicians with five brick-and-mortar clinics and virtual abortion care programs in five states. 

Miller holds a degree in international studies, with a concentration in religion and a minor in women’s studies from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her national recognition for innovation, outspoken advocacy, and action has made her a frequently quoted spokesperson, conference presenter, and of service on multiple boards.

Challenging bad laws and regulations is part of what Whole Woman’s Health is known for; the organization sued Texas no less than 11 times while it operated clinics there and has brought challenges to abortion restrictions in Indiana, Virginia, and Minnesota as well. Two of those lawsuits made it to the Supreme Court of the United States: Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, challenging Texas’ omnibus abortion bill where WWH prevailed in 2016. The second was Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, challenging Texas’ 6-week abortion ban in front of a very different Trump Court in 2021, where they lost. In 2023, Miller hosted HHS Secretary Javier Becerra at her Alexandria, VA, clinic for a roundtable discussion on abortion bans post Dobbs. In 2021, she participated in a historic roundtable hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House. The roundtable focused on the status of abortion care in America and marked the first time an abortion provider has been invited to the White House in 25 years.

Regina Davis Moss

Regina Davis Moss is the President & CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda and the In Our Own Voice Action Fund. She has over 20 years of experience in the public, non-profit, and political sectors. She has dedicated her entire career to advancing complete physical, mental, and social well-being for women of color through research, programmatic initiatives, and the development of innovative strategies for informing health policies. 

Formerly, Moss was the Associate Executive Director of public health policy and practice for the American Public Health Association (APHA), where she led women’s, children’s, and reproductive health initiatives; managed strategy with government agencies, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders; and oversaw APHA’s Advancing Racial Equity and Social Justice initiative. She has held senior management positions for a national healthy eating and active living education initiative for Black women and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 

Moss served as a research supervisor for an epidemiologic study on uterine fibroid tumors and as a public health service fellow in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Her recent book, Black Women’s Reproductive Health and Sexuality: A Holistic Public Health Approach, explores the impact of government and society on the reproductive health and sexuality of Black women and offers evidence-based solutions that support Black women in leading healthy and thriving lives.

Rosalind Petchesky ’64

Rosalind Petchesky ’64 is a pathbreaking scholar/activist on reproductive and sexual rights. Her career reflects a record of outstanding activism, teaching, and scholarship committed to political, social, and gender justice. She obtained her Ph.D. in political science in 1974 from Columbia University after receiving an M.A. from Columbia University (1967) and a B.A. from Smith College (1964). She is now Distinguished Professor Emerita of Political Science at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, where she became a faculty member in 1987.

Petchesky’s scholarly work incorporates intersectional feminist anti-racist and biopolitical analysis to clarify the issues of reproductive and sexual rights in the contexts of gender and economic justice, global capitalism, geopolitics, and war. Her most widely read and cited articles include “Owning and Disowning the Body: A Reflection,” in The Oxford Handbook of Transnational Feminist Movements (2015) and “Fetal Images: The Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction” (1987). Her first book, Abortion and Women’s Choice: The State, Sexuality, and Reproductive Freedom (1990), was followed by Global Prescriptions: Gendering Health and Human Rights (2003), and Sexuality, Health and Human Rights (2008), co-authored with Sonia Corrêa and Richard Parker.

Petchesky has received numerous awards, fellowships, and honors, including the First Distinguished Professor Lectureship at Hunter College and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s MacArthur Fellows (“genius”) Award.

Loretta Ross

Loretta Ross is a leading co-creator of reproductive justice theory with a long career in human rights education and activism. She is an Associate Professor at Smith College in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender, where she teaches a colloquium on reproductive justice. Professor Ross is also a co-organizer of the Smith College Kahn Institute for Liberal Arts year-long project, (Re)Visioning Human Rights, Democracy and the Liberal Arts, and is a faculty advisor to Smith’s Human Rights Initiative.

Ross was named a MacArthur Fellow, Class of 2022, for her work as an advocate of Reproductive Justice and Human Rights. She was the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (2005–2012) and National Co-Director of the April 25, 2004, March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C., the largest protest march in U.S. history at that time. She founded the National Center for Human Rights Education (NCHRE) in Atlanta, Georgia,  launched the Women of Color Program for the National Organization for Women (NOW), and was the national program director of the National Black Women’s Health Project. One of the first African American women to direct a rape crisis center, Ross was the third Executive Director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center.

Loretta Ross

About the Louise W. and Edmund J. Kahn Liberal Arts Institute

The Louise W. and Edmund J. Kahn Liberal Arts Institute supports collaborative research among Smith College faculty, staff and students, Five College faculty, and visiting scholars—all without regard to the traditional boundaries of departments, programs, and academic divisions. Each year, the institute supports long- and short-term projects proposed, planned, and organized by Smith faculty. Kahn Fellows work together on topics broad enough to encompass a variety of disciplinary perspectives and fo­cused enough for a meaningful investigation. For more information, visit