Commentary

Eileen Manion: 21st-century slavery — we have already seen horror stories

This commentary is by Eileen Manion, a resident of Burlington, retired college English teacher and longtime feminist. 

Coerced pregnancy is slavery.

Slavery is forcing someone to work without compensation.

Banning abortion means those who do not want to carry a pregnancy to term will be forced to do so anyway. They will be enslaved. 

Our sentiments concerning motherhood can prevent us from recognizing that pregnancy and child care are work. 

Many people volunteer to do this work, just as people volunteer to do other unpaid but valuable labor in a society that so woefully undervalues social services and caregiving that many crucial institutions, like hospitals, libraries and schools, could not function without volunteers.

The human race would not continue without the volunteer efforts of parents, especially, and unequally mothers. 

Pregnancy is risky work. Women coerced into carrying a pregnancy to term are risking their lives, their health, and taking on a burden that will have a serious impact on their future lives. 

By overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing states to ban abortion, the Supreme Court has effectively repealed the 13th Amendment, which prohibits involuntary servitude. At the time it was passed, the particular horror of rape and forced childbearing for enslaved black women was clearly recognized.

The consequences of state bans on abortion fall especially hard on poor women and women of color. They are already disproportionally suffering from higher maternal morbidity and mortality rates in a country that provides no universal public health care.

The media have made a terrible error in allowing anti-abortionists to call themselves “pro-life.” If they were truly pro-life, they would oppose imperialist invasions, the death penalty and support, at the very least, universal health and child care, as well as severe restrictions on guns.

Anti-abortionists are not “pro-life”; they are pro-fetus. In their imaginations, the fetus represents a pure innocence, a quality all those who have been born no longer possess.

In protests against abortion bans, our slogan should not be “We will not go back” to the pre-1973 world. The punitive surveillance state in which Americans now live, where phone and internet histories can be subpoenaed and searched by malicious, fanatical prosecutors, will create a situation for women much worse than anything we faced growing up in the mid-20th century. 

Overturning Roe v. Wade will not turn back the clock on reproductive rights but usher in a more intrusive and punitive approach to women who become pregnant. We have already seen horror stories of women prosecuted for murder after a stillbirth, partly because they did an internet search on abortion providers.

Instead, we should proclaim that we will not be enslaved. The 13th Amendment prohibiting involuntary servitude applies to all women. 

In November, supporters of reproductive rights should carefully scrutinize the voting records of their state representatives and turn out of office any fanatics who are trying to impose their will on a nation that, on the whole, does not agree with such harsh abortion restrictions.


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