Governed through Choice

Autonomy, Technology, and the Politics of Reproduction

240 pages

August, 2015

ISBN: 9781479843916



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Jennifer M. Denbow is Assistant Professor of Political Science at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

All books by Jennifer M. Denbow

At the center of the “war on women” lies the fact that women in the contemporary United States are facing more widespread and increased surveillance of their reproductive health and decisions. In recent years states have passed a record number of laws restricting abortion. Physicians continue to sterilize some women against their will, especially those in prison, while other women who choose to forego reproduction cannot find physicians to sterilize them. While these actions seem to undermine women’s decision-making authority, experts and state actors often defend them in terms of promoting women’s autonomy.          
In Governed through Choice, Jennifer M. Denbow exposes the way that the notion of autonomy allows for this apparent contradiction and explores how it plays out in recent reproductive law, including newly enacted informed consent to abortion laws like ultrasound mandates and the regulation of sterilization. Denbow also shows how developments in reproductive technology, which would seem to increase women’s options and autonomy, provide even more opportunities for state management of women’s bodies. The book argues that notions of autonomy and choice, as well as transformations in reproductive technology, converge to enable the state’s surveillance of women and undermine their decision-making authority. Yet, Denbow asserts that there is a way forward and offers an alternative understanding of autonomy that focuses on critique and social transformation. Moreover, while reproductive technologies may heighten surveillance, they can also help disrupt oppressive norms about reproduction and gender, and create space for transformation. A critically important analysis, Governed through Choice is a trailblazing look at how the law regulates women’s bodies as reproductive sites and what can be done about it. 


  • “This book brilliantly theorizes two faces of autonomy in contemporary liberal democracies—autonomy as a technique of self-management and governance, and autonomy as a frame for critique and transformation of subordinating practices. Without ever denying the self’s constructed and relational dimensions, Jennifer Denbow argues compellingly for an individual women’s essential control over her own reproductive existence.One of the best books on reproductive politics in a decade!”

    —Wendy Brown, author of Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Empire and Identity

  • Governed through Choice is a sophisticated but accessible analysis of the governance of women as reproductive subjects.Providing fresh readings of classic and contemporary political theory while engaging the contemporary politics of reproductive rights, Denbow argues that the political ideal of autonomy defies and justifies the regulation of women’s bodies in a variety of sites.This text is a timely reflection on the continued political centrality of women's bodies.”

    —Claire Rasmussen, author of The Autonomous Animal: Self-Governance and Modern Subjectivity

  • “Denbow provides a legal and philosophical analysis of reproductive politics in the US.  She develops the concept of women’s reproductive autonomy, drawing from classic definitions of autonomy by Rousseau and Kant.” 


  • Governed through Choice brings new perspective to the changing political landscape of women’s reproductive rights.”


  • “The book is able to make a bold intervention into current U.S. discourses of reproductive politics and at the same time provoke feminists to ask what is left of the concept of autonomy in the era of neoliberalism and postfeminism…”

    Perspectives on Politics

  • “[Denbow's] poignant critique of government’s ‘coercive paternalism’ with respect to women’s reproductive choices introduces a transformative potential of radical thought at the crux of her thought.”

    New Political Science