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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Compulsory childbearing during antebellum slavery and its relevance today

Forty years after Roe. v. Wade:

An originalist argument for abortion rights

From the piece:

Slaveowners beat women who did not reproduce or sold them, separating them from their families. Some engaged in slave-breeding, forcing slaves considered “prime stock” to mate in order to produce particularly valuable new slaves for labor or sale. Evidence exists that slaves resisted slaveowners’ demands that they reproduce by using herbal and other makeshift contraceptive and abortive methods. Slaveowners were free to rape slaves with impunity and the children who resulted increased their wealth. A slave women’s child was not her own, but the property of her master. Even prior to conception, a slaveowner held a property interest in a woman’s future children that could be bequeathed by will.

Slavery separated black women from their future children at the moment of conception, treating the interests of the fetus as separate and conflicting with that of the mother. Though this conception of the fetus as having distinct interests to be protected from the mother is a familiar part of our discourse and legal framework today, this division did not exist for white women at the time. Professor Roberts describes one method of whipping pregnant women that illustrates this early conception of the maternal-fetal conflict. The mother would be forced to lay with her stomach in a hole dug in the ground so the mother could be beaten while the fetus was protected. “It is the most striking metaphor I know for the evils of policies that seek to protect the fetus while disregarding the humanity of the mother,” she writes.  

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