Visiting Fellow Focuses on History of Birth Control Law

Research on the history of birth control often focuses on Margaret Sanger, who tied birth control to eugenic ideas of “better babies” to achieve social acceptance and legalization. Lauren MacIvor Thompson (Ph.D. ’16), a historian of law, medicine and women’s rights, who joined the Center for Law, Health & Society as a visiting research fellow this academic year, offers an alternative framework.

With the New York Academy of Medicine awarding her the Paul Klemperer Fellowship in the History of Medicine, Thompson is continuing her research on birth control. As part of the research fellowship, she is revising her dissertation into a book, tentatively titled “Suffrage is Not the Goal: Medicine and Law in the Early Birth Control Movement,” examining an alternative framework.

“This book will be the first to examine the reproductive rights movement through the lens of the earliest feminist rhetoric on legal privacy and to explore the influence of Mary Ware Dennett,” Thompson said. Her book will also illuminate a deeper context for lower and Supreme Court rulings on birth control and privacy in the 20th century.

As a visiting assistant professor of history at Kennesaw State University, Thompson teaches the second half of the U.S. History survey and will be teaching the History of Science course spring semester, focusing on the topics of “Science and the Law, from Eugenics to Bioethics.” She also serves as an editor and writer at the popular “Nursing Clio,” an open access, peer-reviewed, collaborative blog project that ties historical scholarship to present-day issues related to gender and medicine.

“The skills she developed in research and writing will serve her well as her scholarship matures,” said Paul Lombardo, Regents’ Professor & Bobby Lee Cook Professor of Law, who served on Thompson’s dissertation committee.  “It is a great bonus to have a colleague whose interests intersect the fields of history, law, and medicine.”