The nationwide struggle for women’s medical and physical privacy recently won a small, but high-profile victory. In an essay leading off Sunday’s Melissa Harris-Perry, the host recapped the legacy of Henrietta Lacks, the late 31-year-old mother of five whose cells led to medical breakthroughs that changed the world. The HeLa cells paved the way for medical advances like in-vitro fertilization as well as treatments and cures to pandemic diseases ranging from polio to HIV/AIDS.
That amazing gift to the world would have meant more if Lacks’ cells were a gift. Instead, they were taken without her knowledge, or the permission of her family. Only in the last few months—62 years after Lacks died from cervical cancer—was an agreement reached with her descendants that ensures a family say in who uses the information contained in Lacks’ DNA.
But overall, as women are forced to advocate for ownership of their own bodies against everyone from anti-abortion lawmakers to invasive police on roadside stops, are they winning that fight? Host Melissa Harris-Perry argued that those rights are “dying, slowly, by inches,” reminding viewers of the strong legislation passed in Texas and North Carolina that may force the closure of almost every abortion clinic in those states. More are closing in the state of Ohio, where state senator Nina Turner is campaigning for Secretary of State.
“We find ourselves going backwards,” Turner said, joining MHP on Sunday live from Cleveland. She noted the forthcoming 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and likened efforts to restrict women’s access to birth control and other reproductive freedoms to the struggles of 1963. As such, Turner put out a call for not just women to step up.
“This is only happening to women and it is wrong,” she said. “Women should be outraged, but people who care about and respect women should be outraged. If it’s women today, what other groups will it be tomorrow?”
Watch the entire interview above, and check out Rebecca Skloot’s book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”