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This issue has its roots in the 8th edition of the International Congress of Feminist Research in the french-speaking areas [1] known as CIRFF2018, [2] which was held in the summer of 2018 at the University of Nanterre. In addition to collective proposals, from thematic workshops to exhibitions and round tables, the call for papers also included “free” submissions. Among the major themes that emerged from the proposals was the issue of work related to the production of new human beings – including the temporary or definitive refusal to have children – and its legal framework. This demonstrates a renewed interest in this subject by researchers and field workers (social workers, health professionals, jurists, etc.). Three sessions under the heading “Reproductive Work and Rights” revealed the relevance of a comprehensive, international, interdisciplinary and ongoing materialist analysis of what this work entails in various societies, and the legal limits (or threats) to reproductive freedom. However, the terms used during the sessions pointed to a constellation of concepts with shifting and porous borders. Since the same term sometimes had multiple meanings, and since some definitions overlapped, we felt it was important to revisit these concepts in the context of this paper to give an accurate picture of both the tasks underlying procreative autonomy and the multiple injunctions (legal and, more broadly, social) within which individuals – especially women – think about, make and live out their choices in this area.

As the choice of vocabulary to describe social facts is never neutral and is an integral part of any epistemological approach (Malmanche, 2018), this introduction presents some of our thoughts on its lexical opacity. We finally opted for the concepts of “procreative work” and “procreative rights” in the call for papers, and our choice was the result of a progression and of analytical shifts (Parts I and II).

Furthermore, by focusing on the legal and regulatory frameworks of the various components of procreative work, we wanted to expand the dialogue between law and social sciences, and more specifically the movement behind critical/feminist legal studies and legal gender studies . It is essential to take legal provisions into account when studying work (paid or not) and its methods of regulation, since they contribute to its social division and produce social hierarchies and classes – of sex, economics, race and age (Part III).

If social relations are constantly being reconfigured, individuals display a variety of attitudes and then can challenge, in discourse and/or in practice, the laws and all the social norms that affect whether or not they have children (Part IV). These arrangements therefore call for a renewed analysis of the social framing of reproductive potential and of its (in)action, as well as of the multiple strategies used by the actors to transform it.

This introduction presents the contributions to this issue. We will conclude it by reviewing what their compilation and the many discussions with their female authors over the last few months have revealed in terms of avenues of investigation. Moreover, an assessment of the proposals received, as well as of what this issue ultimately does and does not contain, are invaluable indicators of the spaces that resist an analysis of procreative work; despite its heuristic potential, the concept still faces certain obstacles.

From reproductive to procreative work

Materialist feminist analyses (of domestic work and the production of children) (ie. Delphy, 1992 ; Tabet, 1985) and recent research on the different forms of unpaid labour – digital practices (Terranova, 2000), charity work, volunteer work or workfare (Simonet, 2018) – suggest that it is relevant to use the term “work” to designate binding practices that are socially useful, that are deployed both outside of and within the areas of paid work, and lead to the “production of children” (Devreux, 2018) or to the decision not to have them. This choice broadens the sociological exploration of activities involved in procreation but also in non-procreation (birth control); that is, an analysis that reflects their social division and the mechanisms used to control them. By employing the concept of work, we wish, like others, to “emancipate ourselves from the category of institutional thought of abstract work to return to ordinary or scientific categories, which define work as a tangible process of elaboration, useful for subsistence,” in the words of Marie-Anne Dujarier (2021 : 188). We will not examine it from the perspective of a market economy (Vandelac, 1981) nor deal with its remuneration. However, we cannot deny the factual existence of economic rewards for certain types of work, as the scientific literature on gestational surrogacy (ex. Rozée, 2020) reminds us, especially the paper by María Isabel Jociles Rubio, Ana María Rivas Rivas and Ariadna Ayala Rubio on the “donation” of oocytes in Spain. The use of the term work outside the framework of employment is a way of revealing the lack of social recognition for procreative activities (Daune-Richard et Devreux, 1992), which allows us to challenge the boundaries drawn between the subfields of our disciplines. It is a tool for rendering visible various disregarded tasks and the time and energy they entail, as well as how they relate to those people who are dedicated to what is generally referred to as work. This is a departure from the traditional and highly political definition of work.

But how can we qualify this type of “reproductive work,” even when this concept is experiencing a new popularity in the Francophone world ( Federici, 2014 ; 2016 ; 2019 ; Contretemps , 2020 ; Gallot et Simonet, 2021 ), in both academic and activist spaces, and with contrasting usage? In fact, this renewed interest in reproductive work has been triggered by the rediscovery of an international campaign, that in the 1970s claimed Wages for Housework (Toupin, 2014 ; 2016), but also by the revival of seminal works by materialist feminists, analyzing domestic work (Tissot et Tissot, 2015 ; Delphy et Leonard, 2019[1992]) and “reproductive work” (Tabet, 2018[1985]), to which the pandemic context has given new resonance, well beyond the academic sphere (ex. Quillet, 2020 ; Damgé, 2020 ; Carde, 2020).

Based on these different models of society conceived almost fifty years ago, some initiatives condemn the denial of this work, done (nearly) free of charge by women, and its social devaluation. Beyond the observations and proposals made by the “young” generations of feminists to remedy the situation (Seery, 2014), extraordinary events are being organized, such as the 2019 internship strike in Quebec (Gonzales del Valle et al ., 2019 ; Collectif, 2021), or the feminist strike in Switzerland (Essyad et Lamamra, 2019). In addition, new theoretical proposals are being developed to understand the many contemporary forms of (quasi) free labour and its variations, all while taking into account the multiple social relations and their interconnection (Simonet, 2018 ; Robert et Toupin, 2018).

However, understanding the work involved in producing or refusing to produce new human beings requires a more detailed examination of the concept of reproductive work and its practices. As Felicity Edholm, Olivia Harris and Kate Young pointed out in 1978, the polysemy of the concept of reproduction – and therefore of the adjective reproductive – is not without ambiguity, because it can refer to social reproduction or to the reproduction of the labour force, or to human reproduction .

In showing the social nature of human reproduction and sexuality from a materialist feminist perspective, Paola Tabet (2018[1985]) highlights the sex-based division of “reproductive work,” that is, the tasks and energy associated with the female class regarding pregnancy, breastfeeding and childcare. Silvia Federici uses this term in a completely different way. As someone involved in the “class struggle” of the feminist movement, she posits that reproductive work encompasses all the activities that ensure the reproduction of the labour force, i.e., sex work, procreation, child care and domestic work, as well as cooking, cleaning, caring for relatives, other types of care work, etc. (Federici et al ., 2020 ; Federici, 2019 : 73) – tasks that she says are “subsumed by the capitalist organization of work” (Federici 2020 : 28) . The different uses of the term underline the plurality of theoretical frameworks within which the concept of “reproductive work” is employed, as it also appears in studies on contraception (Bretin, 1992), medically assisted reproduction (MAR) (Tain, 2013) and even gestational surrogacy (GS) (Rozée, 2020), to name but a few. To grasp the various operations based on this notion of reproductive work that underpin the production of children or the decision not to have them, specifically for a single sex, seemed problematic to us, all the more so, as we do not posit a hierarchy of social relations, but approach them as consubstantial (Galerand et Kergoat, 2014).

We had already confirmed this theoretical choice in a previous issue (Mathieu et Ruault, 2017). Older studies, as well as interviews with researchers who have been studying the sociological and historical analysis of maternity since the 1980s (Mathieu, Rameau et Ruault, 2017), have disclosed other criticisms of reproductive work. To summarize them briefly, this concept restates the spheres of productive vs. reproductive dichotomy, whose interconnection has been demonstrated many times (APRE, 1988 ; Combes, 1988 : 103 ; Devreux, 1988 ; Descarries et Corbeil, 2002), including the devaluation engendered by the prefix “re.” I ndeed, re-producing emphasizes the perpetual and routine performance of the same gestures producing the same things (Mathieu et Ruault, 2017), reducing the work done by women to their physiology. In doing so, it denies the intentionality, reflexivity and creative dynamics involved in the work to produce a child (Daune-Richard et Devreux, 1992), as also in refusing to have one. This is why Jordanova and Strathern distinguish, in the English language, between “reproduction” and “procreation.” If the first has more to do with the replication of an original and the perpetuation of the species and the population, the second is presented as a “generative moment,” which brings to the fore “human agency and capacities” (Strathern, 1993 : 207-208), “the bodies and persons involved” (Jordanova, 1995 : 372).

We thus reiterate our decision to move away from the “slippery” concept of reproduction (Ginsburg et Rapp, 1991 : 311) – and therefore from reproductive work – to focus rather on that of procreative work. This allows us to expand our comprehensive analysis to tasks as diverse as the regulation of fertility, the maintenance and health surveillance of sexuality, gynecological events such as childbirth, pregnancy termination (abortions, whether via voluntary termination of pregnancy (VTP) or for medical reasons, and miscarriages), medically assisted reproduction (MAR), child rearing and education (Mathieu et Ruault, 2017). By incorporating the work involved in non-procreation, the concept of procreative work allows us to consider all the tasks associated with the production of new human beings in light of a broad range of social relationships.

Certain authors, such as Marie-Blanche Tahon in a previous issue of Enfances, Familles et Générations (2011 : 6), have certainly distanced themselves from the concept of procreation, following Luc Boltanski (2004) and Irène Théry “to indicate that human reproduction is not reducible to a set of biological acts, but includes a significant dimension reflecting the fact that it is always inscribed within a context: that of a human realm” (Théry, 2010 : 126). However, we advocate a much broader meaning of the term procreation than the one commonly used.

Although the introduction of medical techniques seems to have valorized procreation, this “procreativity” (Dhavernas, 1991) has paradoxically helped to redefine its boundaries and content. It is very often restricted to specific times of activity aiming to create new human beings, valuing above all the professional work of technicians and relegating other aspects of these tasks to female biology. Associating procreativity with the term work therefore makes it possible to overcome any attempt to naturalize what we consider, in this issue, as a socially organized production.

Giving full value to the adjective procreative by associating it with the term work thus seemed to us a timely shift. With procreative work, it becomes possible to include the different tasks involved in producing or refusing to produce new human beings, the social norms that regulate each of its components and the global social organization of this “factory” of children. But more than that, this notion makes it possible to revisit the boundary between the biological and the social in order to come back to a point that is a stumbling block in analyzing social sexual relations: the idea that (non)procreation would be “women’s business,” inevitably coming up against the concept of a biological “difference” between the sexes. According to this logic, a “woman's womb” would be “naturally” destined to produce human life, and the immanence of certain periods of procreative work would suggest that each of its stages belongs within a chronology of exclusively biological events. It is therefore important to guard against the risk of naturalizing (Mathieu, 1973) the various tasks, and also articulating them, as still permeates common representations. The “sequences” that make up procreative work must therefore be thought of as autonomous work “stations” (Mathieu et Ruault, 2017) that in reality appear to be closely related due to its social regulation, involving a whole network of actors and institutions. As Anne-Marie Daune-Richard and Anne-Marie Devreux emphasized on the subject of pregnancy, if “the medical profession [...] socially represents the expertise and the supervisory institution for this work, a bit like production managers or foremen” (1992 : 17), then there exists a plurality of agents ensuring the exercise and control of these procreative tasks carried out mainly by the female class.

From “reproductive rights” to the “right to procreative work”

In this section, our investigations focus on the concept of reproductive rights, their origins, their uses and their limitations. Used since the 1960s and 1970s by feminist organizations (particularly English- and Spanish-speaking) to demand the autonomy of women in their reproductive choices (the right to abortion, the end of forced sterilizations and access to pregnancy follow-up services), this idea of reproductive rights “is the result of an intersectional concept of the right to (non)procreation, recognizing that women’s expectations and the constraints weighing on them are not the same, based on social constructs of race and social class” (Gauthier et Grenier-Torres, 2014 : 5). Feminist associations claiming reproductive rights formed an alliance in a transnational movement and in 1994 released a Declaration of Women , which was included almost verbatim in the Programme of Action of the Cairo Conference on Population and Development (PAC) in 1994 (McIntosh et Finkle, 1995). It marked the formal appearance on the international stage of this category of rights (Maffi et al ., 2017 ; Bonnet et Guillaume, 2004 ; Gauthier et Grenier-Torres, 2014) and their explicit recognition as Human Rights (El Kotni et Ona Singer, 2019 ):

“These rights are based on the recognition of the fundamental right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information necessary to do so, and the right of all to the attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. This right also includes the right of all people to make decisions concerning reproduction without discrimination, coercion and violence, as expressed in human rights documents” (NU, 1995 : 38-39).

Thus, reproductive rights were not reduced only to the right to abortion and family planning, since the definition includes: “all matters relating to the reproductive system, its functions and functioning, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity [...] This implies the right to have access to health services that enable women to have a healthy pregnancy and childbirth, and provide couples with every opportunity to have a healthy child” (NU, 1995 : 7.2). In this respect, the concept seems to offer several advantages. While initially rooted in issues of population and health (Bonnet et Guillaume, 2004), its scope has been expanded by recent international conferences to include rights to childcare and parental leave (Gautier, 2000 : 175). Bringing together the concerns of feminists from different societies and social backgrounds, reproductive rights provide a common international framework for the multiple activities that make up reproductive work.

Moreover, the demands embedded within this new generation of rights (Gautier, 2000 ; Marques-Pereira, 1996) respond to the restructuring of the sex-based division of labour, notably in the context of economic globalization and developments in contraception that have transformed, in part, the conditions allowing for the possible production of children (Gautier, 2000 : 176). We were therefore tempted to mobilize restructuring within this issue .

However, given the attention accorded these rights, some feminists – such as Sonia Corrêa (1994 : 98) speaking on behalf of the activists of the organization Development Alternatives with Women for a New Area (DAWN) – have wondered “whether there is not a danger in investing so strongly in questions of reproduction at the expense of other issues, such as women's work” (Gautier, 2000 : 174). This criticism clearly reveals the way in which the dichotomy highlighted earlier between production and reproduction is replayed, this time at the level of human rights.

To overcome this obstacle, we favour the concept of procreative rights (understood as the different elements of the “right to procreative work”). This choice also marks a clear break with the health approach within which reproductive rights have emerged and are still partly maintained (“mother and child health” and “sexual and reproductive health” programs). [3] This second shift makes it possible to understand procreative tasks and their regulation in coordination with paid work, while taking into account the power relationships that cut through them – the medical profession unquestionably occupying a privileged place. Refocusing the analysis on procreative rights allows us to take into account the material conditions for carrying out procreative work, what facilitates or hinders it, the social groups, particularly professionals, involved in its regulation in various social spaces, including those of paid work. Strictly speaking, this does not mean questioning a formalized class of rights, but rather shedding light on the actual conditions for carrying out procreative work, as well as its legal and jurisprudential framework through a set of more or less codified rules.

The permeable nature of the domains of social life, which has been highlighted since the 1980s (Haicault, 1984 ; Devreux, 1988), became blatantly apparent with the reconfigurations of work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic ( Collectif d'analyse des familles en confinement , 2021). However, everyday descriptions and legal texts note that activities in family and professional spheres are highly bipolarized. The law thus objectifies what is always perceived as an incompatibility between the logic, gaps and timeframes that constitute private and public worlds (Fusulier et Nicole-Drancourt, 2015 ; Dussuet, 2016). Depending on the context in which identical tasks are carried out, they can be regulated by different legal codifications. In this spirit, procreative work and all related activities do not really have their place in the time-space of paid work, where they are often suppressed by women. And when it becomes socially legitimate to integrate them into the professional framework and they become legal rights, their entry into the labour code does not necessarily result in effective protection.

In this respect, the right to breastfeed in the workplace is revealing in both France and Switzerland (Zinn et al ., 2021). For example, although article L1225-30 of the French Labor Code authorizes breastfeeding in France, the actual exercise of this right depends on the goodwill of employers (provision of a breastfeeding room, collective agreements favourable to the recognition of this activity, etc.), who may ignore the bargaining power that is shared unequally among employees. In this situation, the right to breastfeed at work remains only a “formal act of modernity” (Commaille, 1981). In our view, putting forward the idea of the right to procreative work is therefore of real interest: this analytical tool makes visible the role of the law in guaranteeing the social recognition of certain procreative tasks, and challenges the real effects of these legal protections in their daily deployment, as well as the way in which legal norms and their practical aspects contribute to the renewal of social relations – especially by sex. It is thus a matter of addressing the conditions needed to carry out procreative work in the plurality of their evolving normative framework, a subject of negotiations where boundaries fluctuate depending on the social characteristics of the actors.

Although reproductive rights are now formalized at the international level and the term has become established within the Anglo-Saxon legal system, national laws do not always seem to refer to them, as for example in France and Germany (Marguet, 2014 : 34). “This does not mean that there are no enshrined reproductive rights in these two countries, but that these issues are dealt with separately (abortion, medically assisted reproduction, access to contraception, planning information, surrogacy, access to reproductive care, etc.)” (Marguet, 2014 : 34 ; Gautier, 2000 : 167). Procreative law proposes to eliminate this segmentation by including, within the same analytical framework, everything that contributes to the legal context of child rearing and that which involves the non-production of the human species, as well as its positive opposite – subjects that are too often disassociated. The law thus helps to deconstruct the centrality of “biological motherhood.” In fact, procreation is frequently reduced to its most restrictive meaning of gestation and childbirth, but this perception perpetuates a scale of values between various tasks and also between women: between biological and adoptive mothers, between voluntarily childless women and mothers, etc.

Legal and regulatory frameworks for procreative work

The emphasis that this issue places on the legal and regulatory framework of the different components of the production of children and the decision not to have them reminds us that the law can function as a powerful “instrument of domination” (Revillard et al ., 2009) and can set strict limits on individual procreative autonomy. Although the law cannot be reduced to an overarching force (Ewick et Silbey, 2004), it defines the legal conditions of practices and influences the performance of the actors. As María Isabel Jociles Rubio, Ana María Rivas Rivas and Ariadna Ayala Rubio illustrate in this issue, the formalization in Spanish law of the production of oocytes in fertility clinics as a “donation” contributes to shaping the representations of “donors,” both in their work to provide these oocytes and in the “financial compensation” they receive. Another example is the threshold established under French law on voluntary interruption of pregnancy, which still forces thousands of women to go abroad for an abortion (Cèbe et Philippe, 2002 ; Mathieu, 2021) and contributes to over-stigmatizing them (Mathieu et Ruault, 2014). This legal provision thus defines the forms and experiences of a component of procreative work assumed by women: abortive work (Mathieu, 2019). But the law, because of its binding nature, can also be a “lever for social change” (Revillard et al., 2009 : 4) and an instrument in the struggle for better conditions in this work of (non)production of children and therefore for women’s quality of life. Leslie Fonquerne's paper on the delivery and purchase of the pill in the French context shows how its legalization has redefined the boundaries of women's procreative freedom.

The history of activism with regard to contraception and abortion laws (Pavard et al ., 2012 ; Ruault, 2017) reminds us that legislation, like judicial categories, is the result of battles fought by certain social groups, outside and inside the places where it was formally created, in specific socio-historical and political contexts. “Despite their claim to permanence and objectivity, the rules of law are the fruit of a ‘gestation process’ [...] their being written is indeed a work of refinement but also of hybridization of the old and the new, of one argument and another, of a struggle and a renunciation, of a compromise” (Cardi et Devreux, 2014 : 5). This “engendering of the law,” as Coline Cardi and Anne-Marie Devreux put it (2014), is particularly exemplified in bioethics law (Hennette-Vauchez, 2009). Since the first children were conceived through in vitro fertilization, in France it was considered that biomedical innovations warranted political control and legal oversight (Dreifuss-Netter, 2012). From the outset, the first bioethics laws passed in 1994 included a revision clause “from a normative and legal perspective” (Mehl, 2011 : 13), thus regularly propelling the positions of MAR professionals, but also those of “ordinary” [4] citizens, into the public arena; and, as practices and mores evolve, their disagreements and the long parliamentary negotiations revising (Brunet, 2017 ; 2020) “the laws of childbirth” (Mehl, 2011).

However, it is illusory to think that once conquered, rights are definitively acquired, especially when it comes to (non)procreation. “What legislators do, they can undo, explicitly or more often implicitly, by superimposing rules one on top of another, the latest invalidating the previous.” (Devreux, 2009 : 37). The numerous attacks on the right to abortion around the world over the last ten years (Brunet et Guyard-Nedelec, 2018), including the adoption by the Alabama legislature in May 2019 of one of the most repressive laws in the United States on the subject, prove that reproductive rights do not follow a teleological evolution that will inevitably lead to greater equality. The image of the twenty-five senators, the twenty-five white men who voted for this law ( Rochon, 2019 ) that drastically restricts access to abortion in Alabama, is a striking illustration of the power relations within legislative spaces and of their narrowmindedness.

It would also be erroneous to assume that procreative rights, when formalized, ensure that they are effective for all. Lucia Gentile's paper, which delves into women's contraceptive work in Bhuj, India, highlights the glaring gap between legislation and its practical application. While the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to contraception, women in this city in Gujarat face multiple obstacles that severely limit their choices of fertility control methods. While creating inequalities among women (based on their marital status, their (non)maternity, their economic and cultural capital, their caste and their religion), these constraints partly explain the high level of female sterilization in this urban area.

While the law is shaped by power relations, in particular socio-sexual relations, the work initiated by legal gender studies and extended by Recherches et études sur le genre et les inégalités dans les normes en Europe (known as REGINE [Research and Studies on Gender and Inequalities in Norms in Europe]) has revealed that, beyond its androcentrism (MacKinnon, 1989), the law also helps to produce social groups (Smart, 1992 ; Carayon, 2019). The focus of our call for papers on reproductive rights thus enabled us to broaden this feminist and sociological analysis of laws, their creation, their content and their interpretation. Although the papers in this issue do not cover all the links in the “chain of law” (Dworkin, 1985), they offer valuable insights into how laws and jurisprudence, while permeable to extra-judicial notions, contribute to social division in procreative work, resulting in classes based on sex and other social distinctions.

By examining the legal provisions governing contraception, surrogacy, abortion, MAR and the establishment of filiation in France and Germany, Laurie Marguet shows how the law participates in the “mechanisms of gender standardization of kinship” and the way in which it establishes a hierarchy of family models: the heteronormative genetic family is valued, to the detriment of other forms. Her paper underscores the importance of a binational comparative study of the legal framework for procreative work; an overview of Franco-German legal texts and jurisprudence exposes the presence not only of similar mechanisms, but also of heterogeneous methods for regulating procreation – in particular its rather diffuse and invisible nature in the two societies .

In exploring European jurisprudence, Sophia Ayada reveals the differentiated treatment of parents according to the consequences of the reproductive work addressed. Although the European Court opts for an exception system based on a biologized representation of maternity during gestation and the period of maternity leave after the birth, it applies a universal gender-blind system when it deals with parental work. Despite this apparent ambiguity, it emphasizes differences between men and women that have tangible effects on women's experiences: it tends, for example, to understate the influence of reproductive norms and of work on women's career paths.

By addressing the legal framework of different categories of procreative work, these two authors highlight the operative character of the concept of procreative rights that this issue focuses on, in order to reveal the common assumptions on which laws and jurisprudence are based (such as motherhood being a primarily biological reality) and the comprehensive dynamics in which they are embedded. Also, as these two contributions illustrate, since procreative rights are not limited to the field of health, to study them is to call into question the established boundaries between civil and social laws, as well as criminal law, in order to reveal the links between the control of procreative work and social relations.

The papers in this issue dealing with laws and jurisprudence are positioned at national and European levels of the law. Despite the divisions between fields of competency, a principle of non-interference and the unequal binding force of legal proceedings on individuals based on their sphere of action, there are nevertheless inter-judicial interactions and currents between international and regional directives (Champeil-Desplats, 2019). Studying the legal framework of procreative tasks therefore requires that this “judicial pluralism,” and more broadly a “normative pluralism,” be taken into account (Bernheim, 2011). As Elsa Boulet reminds us in her paper on the social framework of pregnancy in France, legal provisions are articulated with other forms of normativity in the framework of women's procreative work. In her analysis, she underlines how labour law, together with the medicalized and standardized supervision of pregnancies in France, ensures that women have the time available to ensure the health of their fetuses, an availability that is legally conditional on obtaining birth and family allowances .

A constellation of norms

In fact, procreation is outlined by a set of socio-normative features that today in France reflect an alliance between politics and religion on questions of gender and sexuality (Rochefort et Sanna, 2013). Religious morals and social injunctions are thus the guarantors of the “right way to procreate,” and shape the contours of “normality,” in both the representations and the practices of individuals.

To begin with, “the institutions of belief show [...] a strong resistance to the redeployments currently underway” (Portier, 2013 : 305) in sexual and procreative matters. The moralization of sexuality, the defense of heterosexual conjugality with the associated fixation on filiation based on biology, as well as the condemnation of homosexuality, seek to place the practices of the faithful “in the renewal of a non-negotiable law” (Portier, 2013 : 305) in most of the great monotheisms (Paternotte et al ., 2015). A “conservative unanimity of religions” (Béraud, 2021 : 130) was formed to fight the movement for sexual democratization (Fassin, 2009): it promoted the “traditional” or “natural” family as a (hetero)normative ideal to be defended, and as a counterpoint, condemns everything that permits procreation to be controlled, including contraception (González López, 2016 : 13 ; Noonan, 2012) and abortion, (Ladrière, 1982) as well as MAR (Mathieu, 2012).

The vigilance of the faithful to counteract any type of threat to this model engages them in a veritable “gender battle,” (Béraud, 2021) in which they seek to control the exercise of procreative work “on the basis of a substantialist grid of analysis” (Portier, 2013 : 306) that ratifies the difference and complementarity of the sexes. In 2012-2013 in France, the campaigns against same-sex marriage were emblematic of this “sacralization of physiology” (93) that unites its protagonists around an immutable order to be defended and supposedly acts as a guarantor of social order with regard to union, parenthood and procreation.

“Rhetorical heteronomy,” (Gallot et Pasquier, 2018 : 44) which lies at the heart of the borrowed discursive registers and defends gender and the recognition of sexual identity in the name of “Nature,” “underscores the crux of the debate: the real social issue behind the man/woman categorizations is not so much sexuality as procreation” (Touraille, 2013 : 127). It is not surprising, therefore, to find the rise of religious bioethics activism (Feuillet-Liger et Portier, 2011) at the time of the last revisions of the laws of bioethics in France, between 2018 and 2020. On this subject, Séverine Mathieu shows how, in an effort to maintain its influence in a context of secularizing Catholicism, the Catholic Church seeks to give its position a generalist scope by referring explicitly to a “secular library.” Following the publication of Opinion 129 of the National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE) in favour of making MAR available to single women and female couples, the Vatican defended its traditional family model by legitimizing its criticism of the “erasure of fathers” through a biologization and psychologization of society, which draws on anthropological, ecological, psychoanalytical and philosophical discourses. The Vatican’s desire to influence political and judicial arbitration moves it from the theological to the bioethics age (Feuillet-Liger et Portier, 2011 ; Barbier, 2018), leading it to favour a “rhetoric of anxiety” to politicize procreation in its own way. This tendency goes far beyond issues pertaining to MAR, and far beyond the French borders. The recent and numerous assaults on the right to choose (Brunet et Guyard-Nedelec, 2018) reveal the determination of certain religious currents to regulate procreative work and the conditions in which it is exercised.

In this respect, “much of the ‘informal power’ of religions lies in the everyday dissemination of the normative ideas that underpin them, and in the influence they exert on the attitudes and the lives of individuals” (Heinen, 2013 : 283). The ways in which the family, procreation and the gendered distribution of related tasks are envisaged, as well as the organization of private and public spaces, are indeed often marked by religious values. They offer frameworks of thought and life advice, such as certain training organizations do for marriage and family counseling (Fradois, 2017), or even an education in sexuality correlated with a vision of sexualities and procreation that serves a certain form of social control.

This is precisely what Margaux Roberti-Lintermans reveals in this issue: the magazine she examines, Femmes d'aujourd'hui , has portrayed itself as “a practical guide for housewives” since it was founded in 1933 in the french-speaking part of Belgium. This Catholic-inspired weekly magazine is intended for a readership of working-class women steeped in Christian ideas, and the evolution of its “advice” column between 1960 and 2010 reflects the various means the editors used to promote sex education in connexion with the family model promoted by the Church, while attempting to “keep up with the times”. The magazine took timid steps into the area of fertility control, but quickly became a psychologizing chronicle prepared to defend heteronormativity with a procreative aim within the framework of a joint spousal contraceptive responsibility. This lasted until the 1980s. As Séverine Mathieu also shows, the secularization of the rhetoric framing procreation seems to be a preferred approach for the religious morality entrepreneurs.

Thus, the contemporary interplay among law, religion and politics draws a clear picture of normative configurations specific to the social spaces involved. These are the legacies the actors have to face in matters of procreation. The general framework in which individual decisions are made is indicative of a procreative social contract (Debest et Hertzog, 2017) that, while occasionally amended, nonetheless confirms a gender order that places the responsibility for procreation on women, in France and elsewhere. In fact, women who choose to be childless are still exposed to a social judgment that equates their choice to not become mothers with deviance (Debest, 2015); those who do not have control over their fertility in advance are considered to be in need of discipline (Mathieu et Ruault, 2014 ; Paris, 2020); and those who are infertile suffer from stigmatization (Rozée et Mazuy, 2012 ; Charton et Nguyen, 2020). Despite the procreative rights that have been won, there remains a duty to procreate “within the norm” which is expressed explicitly through tax incentives, so-called work/family balance policies and communications relayed by the educational sphere and institutions overseeing birth.

Following a “mother-child paradigm” (Fournier et Jarty, 2019), public policy measures thus aim to control births, women and their foetuses for the good, and particularly the health, of potential children and families. It is therefore the medical and paramedical bodies, now experts in procreation and legitimized by the State, that not only “watch over” but also “oversee” (Vozari, 2012) the procreative work of patients. They act as guarantors of a social order that moralizes the performance of this work by biologizing, medicalizing and/or psychologizing women's behaviours and ailments.

As such guarantors they also play a deciding role in the transmission of norms concerning the production and care of children. The example of nutrition is particularly revealing in this regard. The knowledge of these “experts” is instrumental in the construction and maintenance of women's responsibility for feeding their children (Ferrand, 1983 ; Scholl, 2021 ; Gouilhers et al. , 2021), sometimes even before they are conceived, as shown by the promotion of nutritional epigenetics emphasizing the importance of the “first thousand days of life.” This “biolegitimacy of nutritive care,” which fits into the framework of international policies (Fournier et Jarty, 2019 : 9), supports injunctions on women by the health administration of procreative bodies, which ignore the distinct inequalities among women. Elsa Boulet's contribution to this issue rightly exposes the unequal costs women bear to guarantee their pregnancy follow-up. The amount of time required to access medical services makes it difficult to balance the elements – health, professional and domestic – that normalize the daily lives of pregnant women. This balance is made even more elusive as it depends on women’s economic resources, their knowledge of the health care system and labour law, their position in the workplace, their migratory trajectory, etc.

Secondly, a medical and paramedical body guarantees social order, in that professionals legitimized to produce and drive these procreative norms enter into processes of categorization that “through their prism of gender, race and class determine the directions and coercive methods of public policy” (Paris, 2020 : 29). Thus, a representation of the “good mother” (Garcia, 2011) is constructed from the worldviews of medical, psycho-social and educational institutions. The women who most conform to the dominant expectations are endowed with social, economic, cultural and/or symbolic capital that is relatively close to that of the moral entrepreneurs they face (Serre, 1998 ; Jarty et Fournier, 2019). Having internalized the health monitoring requirements of their procreative potential, as well as those disseminated by a whole culture of parenthood (Lee et al ., 2014), these women also have the linguistic resources to position themselves favorably in interactions with doctors and social workers, and even to negotiate certain deviations from the norm. On the other hand, working-class women are less adept in their use of the elements of “self-control,” expressed through words on which medical institutions and their government overseers depend (Memmi, 2004).

These processes of categorization, implicitly carried out by professionals at certain key moments in the procreative process, constantly remind women of the procreative norm (Bajos et Ferrand, 2006), while at the same time fuelling “a discreet naturalization of motherhood” (Memmi, 2016). Childbirth plans are supposed to be consistent with an infertility regime (Régnier-Loilier, 2007 : 119) guaranteed by medically controlled contraception (Roux et al ., 2017). They must demonstrate a rationalized search for the “right moment” (Langevin, 1984), which requires women to reflect on and organize parts of their lives to conform to social expectations: stable material and professional conditions, age limits, and established and primarily heterosexual coupledom, whose two members say they are “ready together” (Mazuy, 2009), thus shaping a real “procreative time frame” (Charton et Van Nguyen, 2020). This timetable recalls “the imposition of a collective legitimacy of temporal reference points” (Langevin, 1992 : 40) which act as binding limits to the prescriptive content.

Lucia Gentile's paper in this issue shows precisely how each socio-historical context determines the orientation of women's “procreative career.” In India, the state, doctors, and also families, whatever their religion, encourage the control of births: two or three children, ideally a boy followed by a girl, “conceived at least two years after marriage, at three-year intervals, by a mother of at least 20 years of age,” and condemn the immorality of women who (with their spouse's permission) voluntarily delay the arrival of their first child. To contravene the procreative norm is to be forced into a strategy of making contraception invisible so as to avoid any form of social disapproval.

Laurine Thizy's contribution reveals very concretely how the tactics used to avoid the stigma associated with abortion are a component of abortionist work. They deploy ongoing efforts to control the dissemination of information about their procreative choice and to judiciously select their confidants. The strategies they use to hide pregnancy and termination in the professional or academic space (where girls are swiftly stigmatized) require that women bear a heavy mental, emotional and physical burden. In addition, they must conceal from family planning specialists their deviation from the contraceptive norm, which is socially concentrated on the use of the pill. As for men, they remain secondary actors, and sometimes absent extras in the management of fertility (Ventola, 2014 ; Hertzog, 2016 ; Thomé et Rouzaud-Cornabas, 2017).

It is not surprising, therefore, to note the strength of women's “solidarity” in the exercise of procreative work. In effect, the passage from the formal existence of procreative rights to their concrete use mobilizes “a world of women” (Memmi, 2016 : 418). A normative space is outlined, ranging from the control of procreative bodies by “a police force of women” (Mathieu et Ruault, 2014 : 41), guardians of a new form of secular moralization of women's sexuality and fertility (Guyard, 2010 ; Clair, 2010 ; Ruault, 2015), to the creation of intergenerational solidarities among them (Amsellem-Mainguy, 2006). Leslie Fonquerne's survey provides a concrete example of two outcomes: faced with a (para)medical authority imbued with an unquestionable paternalism, specifically with regard to the youngest women wishing to obtain contraception from a pharmacy, users turn to their mothers for help to counter, among other things, forms of ageism. Laurine Thizy's analysis of avoidance of the stigma attached to abortion also corroborates this tension between abortionists’ distrust of the world of family planning, and the contrasting search for a trusted female "inner circle," including close or experienced friends and, often as a last resort, mothers.

However, this empowerment of women in procreative matters has left interstices through which they are able to build forms of resistance and tinker with norms. Following the example of Camille Frémont, who draws on the work of James C. Scott (2019 [1992]) in her analysis of the infrapolitical actions of lesbian mothers (2018), it is possible to consider certain arrangements, circumventions or tactics as (micro)resistances to the domination of the (para)medical body. The tools used to legitimize procreative practices produced by the latter (such as medical certificates justifying absences from work, sick leave, prescriptions as blank signatures necessary to obtain a contraceptive, but also the narratives expected by the medical profession to “justify” recourse to an abortion, an MAR, or sterilization) can actually be diverted, showing them open to ordinary subversions. The pragmatic agency that Lucia Gentile observes being used by the women of Bhuj in India, in their negotiations with the medical profession in order to access the contraceptive method that suits them, undoubtedly fits into this framework. Similarly, in cases of failure or absence of a medical prescription for the pill, Leslie Fonquerne shows that young women strategically use their social proximity to pharmacy staff and/or local connections to bypass paramedical authority and to assert their social skills to access this means of contraception. Laurine Thizy reveals the power of the strategies of invisibilization carried out with regard to abortion, both in the medical world and in the professional world of women. Women deploy these strategies to protect themselves from the stigma of being an “irresponsible woman,” showing that silence in these circumstances can become a weapon of reappropriation of one's procreative journey.

Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that women are not able to position themselves equitably in the social space, since issues of economic class, race, age and sexual orientation (Gelly et al ., 2021) create disparities in the resources they need to negotiate with health professionals.

Toward expanding the analysis of procreative work

We would like to highlight some of the salient points arising from this collection of papers. First of all, these contributions are the result of research conducted by women. Although one might think that this fact reflects the progress women have made in the social sciences, it serves to remind us of the entrenched nature of such research, and the way in which the sex-based division of labour extends to the analysis of certain subjects within the represented disciplines.

This issue is w ritten by female researchers in law, sociology, anthropology and history, and demonstrates the richness of multi-disciplinarity, perceptible even in the various styles in which they are written. The differences in the methods used to present the results constitutes a valuable contribution to our ways of thinking, as they encourage us to test the proposed concepts to reflect upon procreation in a comprehensive way. The broad range of “materials” (legal texts and case law, archives, “women’s” publications, observations, interviews, etc.) is particularly heuristic in this respect. For example, Margaux Roberti-Lintermans’ historical look at the “advice” column in Femmes d’aujourd’hui puts into perspective the role of the media in making mothers responsible for sex education and, more specifically, in promoting contraceptive norms. Cross-referenced with an analysis of the interviews conducted by Leslie Fonquerne and Laurine Thizy, it allows for a better understanding of how women turn to their mothers, either as a preferred resource to ensure “good” contraceptive management, or as the ultimate support in case of “contraceptive failure.” It should be noted, however, that we did not receive any submissions based on quantitative surveys, even though it is important to consider relevant indicators that can take into account the complexity and breadth of procreative work.

On this point, without directly prolonging the recently revived controversy among feminists regarding remuneration for household work (Blanchard et al. , 2020 ; Gallot et Simonet, 2021), our issue makes room for discussion about the monetary value of procreative tasks. In their contribution, María Isabel Jociles Rubio, Ana María Rivas Rivas and Ariadna Ayala Rubio present the bioeconomy of MAR at work in Spanish clinics, seeking to decode the meanings their respondents attribute to their egg production, which is always defined as a “donation.” While the clinics offer their services on a for-profit basis, the women view the money they receive in exchange for their biomaterials as “financial compensation,” “a reward,” or even as “aid” – views often connected with the logic of procreative solidarity that, in their eyes, legitimizes their participation as a third party in the process of child production. This brings to the fore the difficulties women have in imagining procreative tasks as work, [5] and consequently in separating them from the backdrop of the market economy.

The range of disciplines covered by the proposals submitted to us reveals the transformations at work in the disciplinary subfields, but also the resistance to feminist analyses. It is important to note the weak representation of judicial analyses in this issue, despite the emphasis on our interest in procreative law in the call for papers. This confirms the observation made in 2009 in the journal Nouvelles Questions Féministes by the coordinators of an issue examining law from a gender perspective: “Traditionally conservative, not very open to interdisciplinarity, law as an academic discipline thus appears more closed to feminist analysis than other disciplines, where this field, although still largely male-dominated, has been able to unfold” (Revillard et al ., 2009 : 6). However, they emphasized the “unsuspected vitality of feminist thinking in law” despite “its very weak institutionalization [...] in french-speaking law” (Revillard et al ., 2009 : 6). The limited success of our call for papers among jurists led us to ask: what is at stake when feminist analyses address issues related to procreation in the law? Is there a connection that exposes researchers to a form of marginalization in their professional field? Moreover, the inventory of the categories of rights included in Laurie Marguet and Sophia Ayada's analyses corroborates the asymmetry of critical analyses between sub-fields of law identified elsewhere. Indeed, “social law and civil law remain more studied than other areas of law” (Cardi et Devreux, 2014 : 8); they are cited here particularly in relation to health rights. On the other hand, although Laurie Marguet's work sometimes mentions it, the analysis of criminal law has been too discrete – even though criminal law provides a strong framework for the work of (non)procreation, as illustrated, for example, by the research on women's deviance (Cardi, 2008) and on neonaticide (Ancian, 2018). While identifying, in vain, avenues to be investigated, this assessment makes a point of questioning the impact of certain prejudices on the development of perspectives and subjects of analysis, especially in law. What concrete conditions would allow research to extend into these little-explored marginal areas? The stakes are high because “only a cross-sectional analysis [of the law] makes it possible to grasp the connections between gender and the regulation of social order” (Cardi et Devreux, 2014 : 8).

Beyond the disciplines, this issue takes us on a journey, bringing together papers from surveys conducted in Europe – more specifically in Germany, France, Belgium and Spain – but also in India. The collection of fieldwork on contraception in India (Gentile) and France (Fonquerne) has created a sounding board which emphasizes the urgent need to integrate international perspectives that include both the countries of the North and those of the South in the analysis of procreative rights and obligations.

By highlighting the distinctive variations of procreative work in different societies, the research presented also enriches our knowledge of the constellations of norms governing procreation. They remind us of the extent to which religious, ethical, legal and social norms are intertwined, not only in the formal development of legislation on procreation, but also in the framing of procreative work in its most concrete expressions.

It is therefore crucial to reflect on the ways in which procreative norms are disseminated (spaces for controversial debates, such as during revisions of bioethics laws, “advice” columns in so-called women's magazines or other media, spaces for medical or psychosocial consultation, etc.), since they contribute to shaping practices as well as the ways in which these norms are (micro)resisted. This issue documents the range of strategies deployed by women to preserve their procreative autonomy: choice of birth control methods that are kept hidden or invisible in order to thwart certain forms of social control, control of information dissemination to avoid stigmatization, recourse to a third party or to carefully scripted narratives to obtain a contraceptive, etc. The various papers expand the list of protagonists involved in this regulation: as well as doctors, they include NGOs, law makers and legal practitioners, school nurses, educational counsellors, pharmacists, and family members (mothers-in-law or mothers). Finally, friends and neighbours also play different roles: as facilitators, regulators or obstructors/interlocutors, whether chosen or imposed.

Collectively, these papers show the breadth of procreative work, and its differentiated practices based on women's social status. This dive into the heart of the ordinary continuum of procreative work informs the polymorphic nature of the often “invisible” tasks performed by women, while underlining their social role and their integration with other aspects of life. The controlled choice of confidants and support networks, which is an essential dimension of abortion work, cannot be understood without reflecting on what is said and shown in the professional or academic space (Thizy). The mental, temporal and physical burden of contraceptive work and the invisibilization or negotiation it may involve are inseparable from conditions of daily life, such as distance from the place of delivery, indigenous resources and various means for positioning oneself in relation to one’s partner, family, medical profession, etc. (Fonquerne). To be carried out effectively, the work of gestation, and its coordination with that of patient, employee and administrator, depends on the way in which women are integrated into professional (organization of paid work, hierarchical position, type of contract, etc.) and domestic (modes of sex-based division within couples, number of children) spaces, as well as into their migratory trajectories (Boulet). Lastly, the production of oocytes and the control it implies over the body cannot be analyzed without looking at the economic living conditions of women, their family situation (including the role of “breadwinner”) and the legal framework in which they are deployed (Rubio et al. ).

Nevertheless, the review of work time related to the production of human beings presented in this issue ultimately reveals a singular grey area, where the concept of procreative work seems to come up against a competing conceptualization. If the tasks related to child rearing are conspicuous by their absence in this issue, it is because they are almost exclusively thought of in terms of care, as illustrated by the recent call for papers from the Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics at the University of Brighton, for its 16 th annual interdisciplinary conference entitled ‘The Politics of Reproduction’ . Opposing procreation (biological reproduction) and social reproduction (understood as care work), the text of this call illustrates the way in which certain definitions of care contribute to the renewal of the dichotomy beyond which we specifically wish to move in our chosen corpus of analysis .

While showing the potential of the concept of procreative work for an analysis of a particularly energy-intensive part of women’s lives, this issue reveals the extent of feminist research represented in theses comprehensive, international and interdisciplinary analyses.