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Meet the Fellows: 2019 Newcombe Fellow Brittany Leach

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2019 class of Fellows includes Brittany Leach, a doctoral candidate in Ppolitics at the University of Virginia. Brittany explores some of the thinking that led to her current work:

I grew up in Nebraska, surrounded by a supportive community but filled with curiosity about the broader world. My path towards an academic career and my current research interests originated in my experience with high school and intercollegiate debate. Joining the debate team exposed me to new ideas, places, and people. It was through debate that I first encountered feminist theory and continental philosophy, and the competitive environment sharpened my desire to understand difference and disagreement. I learned how to research, combing through big rubber tubs of photocopied evidence and eventually trawling through academic databases and university libraries. Though I began to express opinions that deviated from my conservative religious upbringing, my community encouraged my desire to learn, question, and disagree. The productive tension between appreciation of community, receptivity to difference, and the drive to contest settled truths is at the heart of my research on feminist ethics and abortion politics. Though I am firmly committed to abortion rights and believe that abortion is ethically defensible, my background drives me to uncover the philosophical complexity underlying this polarized issue. How can feminists defend reproductive autonomy while making space for women’s diverse reproductive experiences and different ways of thinking about pregnancy? How can we embrace community while dismantling oppressive power dynamics within our communities and without erasing the right of each person to make decisions about their own bodies? What futures might we imagine that could shift the terms of this seemingly intractable debate?

Brittany’s dissertation, titled Death Before Birth: Theorizing Pregnant Embodiment, Reproductive Autonomy, and the Politics of Abortion, examines the feminist value of reproductive freedom, diverse experiences and understandings of pregnancy, and political disagreement over abortion. For more information on the 2019 Newcombe Fellows, click here.


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