I grew up in Hamburg, Germany, the eldest of four in a household one could describe as bohemian. My father was a graphic designer, my mother worked in theater and film. When I was 17 years old, I saw a note on the high school bulletin board announcing a high school exchange program to the USA. I immediately knew that I had to go and so I spent a year as a high school exchange student in Motley MN. That year sparked my interest in American history. I went to college in Hamburg where I majored in history and minored in economics and political science. I worked my way through school by cleaning houses, working as a secretary and in a call center. I returned to the US in 1987, after being admitted to the PhD program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Graduate school was eye opening to me. Never before had I read so much or been to an archive.
My major interests are the history of medicine, the history of reproductive rights, and the history of sexuality. My research traces patients’ ability to negotiate with clinicians over access to health care and the ways in which clinicians and patients think about the beginning and end of life. My first book, Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare, examined the role which birth control, sterilization, and abortion played in public health and welfare policies between the 1920s and the 1970s.
In 2002, I shared my research on the history of eugenic sterilization in North Carolina with a journalist from the Winston Salem Journal. North Carolina's sterilization program ran from the 1920s to the 1970s and led to the sterilization of more than 7000 people. The paper ran a week-long series of articles on the subject (https://journalnow.com/news/local/about-the-against-their-will-series/html_e98547a2-90aa-11e2-90c1-001a4bcf6878.html) which ultimately resulted in an official apology by the governor of North Carolina. In 2007, I designed an exhibit on North Carolina’s eugenic sterilization program which opened that year in the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. In 2014, North Carolina began to pay restitution to sterilization victims – the first state in the country to take such a step. You can follow some of the stories here:
My second book, Abortion After Roe, which in 2017 won the William H. Welch Medal by the American Association for the History of Medicine for the best book in the history of medicine, traces the history of abortion since legalization. Abortion is--and always has been--an arena for contesting power relations between women and men. When in 1973 the Supreme Court made the procedure legal throughout the United States, it seemed that women were at last able to make decisions about their own bodies. In the five decades that followed, however, abortion became ever more politicized and stigmatized until the US Supreme Court overturned Roe in its 2022 Dobbs decision. Abortion after Roe chronicles and analyzes what the legal status and changing political environment have meant for abortion providers and their patients. It sheds light on the little-studied experience of performing and receiving abortion care from the 1970s--a period of optimism--to the rise of the antiabortion movement and the escalation of antiabortion tactics in the 1980s to the 1990s and beyond, when violent attacks on clinics and abortion providers led to a new articulation of abortion care as moral work.
Five decades after the legalization of abortion, the abortion provider community has powerfully asserted that abortion care is a moral good. In a 2022 anthology Abortion Care as Moral Work, I bring together the voices of abortion providers, abortion counselors, clinic owners, neonatologists, bioethicists, and historians to discuss how and why providing abortion care is moral work.
My current work, Life and Death in the Nursery: A History of NICUs, explores the history of neonatal intensive care units and the ways in which clinicians’ and parents struggled to determine when to offer treatment to severely ill neonates and when to withdraw treatment.
In my spare time, I volunteer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where I am a member and currently co-chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Counsel for Quality. I also sit on the Ethics Committee and the LGBTQ Committee. We work on improving the experience of cancer care and end of life conversations between clinicians, patients, and caregivers.
I live with my wife and our two heavily shedding dogs, George and Sam, in Lambertville, NJ.
- 512:104 US Development II
- 512:391 History of Medicine in Film
- 512:225 Sexuality in America
- 506:227 Health, Culture and Society
- 512:299 History of Medical Ethics
- Colloquium: Women & Gender: Sexuality
- Colloquium: History of Medicine
- Readings: Women's and Gender History
- Abortion Care as Moral Work: Ethical Considerations of Maternal and Fetal Bodies (Rutgers University Press, 2022).
- Abortion After Roe (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press: 2015).
- “Re-Assessing Eugenic Sterilization: The Case of North Carolina,” in A Century of Eugenics in America: From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era, ed. by Paul Lombardo (University of Indiana Press, 2010).
- "Birth Control in Public Health," in Silent Victories: The History and Practice of Public Health in the Twentieth Century America, ed. by John Ward and Christian Warren, (Oxford University Press, 2007): 279-303.
- “From the Footnotes to the Headlines: Sterilization Apologies and Their Lessons,” Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC 3, no. 3 (Sept. 2006).
- Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare in the Twentieth Century, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005).
- “Between Choice and Coercion: Women and the Politics of Sterilization,” Journal of Women’s History 13, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 132-56.
- American Historical Association
- Organization of American Historians
- American Association for the History of Medicine
- National Abortion Federation
- Berkshire Conference for the History of Women
- American Society for Bioethics and Humanities