The role of forced birth in intensifying dystopian labor forms

“A scold is paraded through the community wearing the “bridle,” an iron contraption used to punish women with a sharp tongue. Significantly, a similar device was used by European slavetraders in Africa to subdue their captives and carry them to their ships.”

The U.S. Supreme Court recently created a material and spectacular demonstration of how historical occlusions persist in the present. The people who were not the writers of enshrined documents, including those kidnapped from the African continent or related to them, people with disabilities and many others, are, were, and now will be even more so, at the elusive mercy of legislation, institutions, national borders and predilections of race and class.

As Jill Lepore wrote weeks before the overturn, “Women are indeed missing from the Constitution. That’s a problem to remedy, not a precedent to honor… [A woman] herself does not exist but is instead, as Mary Wollstonecraft wrote, a ‘non-entity.'”

Since the onset of the pandemic, the idea of “essential work” has entered a general consciousness in that people who perform tasks that are crucial to the maintenance of life have become relatively more visible. During the pandemic, workers who do the work that has historically and traditionally fallen to women, including food deliverers and caregivers, continued to endure starvation wages. An understanding seemed to emerge that if their numbers thinned, an already en masse health crisis would significantly broaden. And yet, one year after social media bristled over food deliverers being exploited on the front lines of the virus, and days after SCOTUS paved the way to criminalize abortions and miscarriages, a Door Dash worker was shot by police, thereby putting the essential worker ‘back in his place’ of disposability.

I

Such categories of non-status, “hyper-exploited” or “informal” work, as Maria Mies and others have called them, have been barred from the “worker” definition because tasks that were historically assigned to the bodies associated with motherhood are conferred the same lack of prestige imposed onto those who raise or bear children. Even in contexts that talk about subsistence or workers rights, childbearing, domestic labor and multiple forms of informal labor are still not given minimal protections, or even (until recently) sufficient language for describing thankless conditions of work that are, as a matter of course, unacknowledged, erased, and gaslit.

The existence of a femmes, reproductive, and “housewifized” labor form is an historical reality, not a “natural” one. Although biology is largely founded on the idea that only some bodies bear children, the division of labor that surrounds reproduction is a product of historical and social relations; it is not a “natural” condition. That said, the appearance of ‘natural’ gender grants the authority to exploit gendered bodies as a site of experimentation towards the blueprint for mass violence, slavery and trafficking. Mass disposability is a consequence of the decimation of bodily autonomy.

If definitions of the ‘wage-worthy’ have been narrowly defined, then so has value. The war in Ukraine has also posed a considerable threat to the stability of the idea of value. National entities and representatives are currently pouring enormous sums of capital into visions of how future East/West European and world borders will be shaped. Where Russia follows a regime of sacrificing humanity for an abstract border, the West describes and re-describes the value of the human. Whether or not the ‘human’ is truly a concern for Western governing entities or merely a form of propaganda that veils the preservation of future accumulation remains to be seen, but the discourse itself has a public and social effect that has generated many formal policy-making discussions that involve accepting financial losses in the name of boycotts.

It would not be obstreperous to imagine that between the recently circulating iteration of essential labor under covid and the boycott of previously advantageous business deals with Russia, the global socius might be exhibiting a tendency towards evolving away from living and thinking the numerical values of money in the “normal,” linear or historically predictable sense. Even the possibility of such a development represents an unprecedented threat to entities that thrive on and continue to demand unbridled powers of accumulation.

II

In 1847, when Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto in three weeks, he was commissioned by The Communist League, formerly The League of the Just, a group that was largely composed of guild worker artisans. One of the effects of this influential context is that “worker” in many texts still conjures images of White male woodworkers, bricklayers, stair builders and the like. The conditions of the creation of the Manifesto implicate a transition from the relative leverage that skilled guild artisan labor had against capital to the ‘worker hands’ who were tools of production, disposable, unskilled or de-skilled, and stripped of autonomy. Marx’s iteration of the “worker,” forged via a commission by reasonably nervous White male artisans as an expression of their fear of being instrumentalized as cogs, may well have supplied the material for a Right-wing contingent to abuse, in order to construct itself as the “authentic” worker body. This trace of relatively privileged artisans speaking on behalf of a much broader constituent of workers, in a kind of Napoleonic move according to Marx’s own early construction of the idea of class, re-appears in a mutilated and weaponized version in Steve Bannon’s view that the US remains an exploited colony of Europe in which only American-born White men need to be expressed by the “worker” notion. Entitlements to this definition are obviously at the catastrophic expense of others who perform other kinds of work including more essential and more socially occluded forms. The kinds of entitlements Bannon and other such figures easily reference have produced “replacement theory” and its accompanying gun violence, human abuses at borders, and violence in places structured towards xenophobia, as well as other sectors that have copyrighted authenticity in a multitude of dimensions, including but not limited to the arts, i.e., the masculinized elitism of “artistic technique” and so on.

That terms like “sex work” still require the qualifier “sex” in order to be inserted into the category of “work” testifies to an order of ‘true’ workers that obfuscate marginalized laborers and labor forms. Similarly, the work of slave labor in the 18th and 19th centuries, much of it domestic, was not seen as tool-bearing, which is one of the stipulations associated with what defines masculine labor against the feminine embodied labor that Maria Mies analyzed in the 1980s according to “work with the breasts and the womb.” Similarly, the idea of ‘slave’ is constructed as not a person who works, but as an inanimate tool of production in and of themselves, and is as such written out of the labor definition, with these practices carried into the present in prisons, unpaid overtime and the charge of laziness; an accusation that erases the possibility that a person with physical needs, such as sleep, or a psyche is connected to a body that is supposed to magically produce value for someone else without a personal or labor process. In “One is Not Born a Woman”, Monique Wittig links slave labor with gendered labor, arguing that the construction of gendered biology, including assumptions of ‘nurture’ projected onto childbearing bodies, produce invisibility and non-personhood in order to garner and quietly profit from the free labor value of the erased.

Meanwhile, the authentic, normative, standardized idea of “worker” produces a logic through which economies continue to deprive embodied workers, including starving artists, caregivers and others, of both wages and the dignity of personhood. In sum, a White male class to whom such historical texts referred retains a grip over the notion of ‘worker’ while others labor ‘outside’ or ‘behind’ the text and thus the historical and social. However, this recent attention given to essential work during lockdown highlights the possibility of re-distributing value within a regime in which value and visibility are intrinsically enmeshed.

III

The US Supreme Court majority now seeks to more intensively enforce the withdrawal and sanctioning of personhood of the exploited and unremunerated worker, of which one foundational category is the childbearer, and also those whose bodies are theoretically capable of bearing children but may choose not to birth. Much has been written about “back alley” abortions, and the many who have other talents and contributions but will be forced to become mothers and do the work of motherhood, laboring at domestic work without remuneration, and submitting to exploitative work in order to survive. Meanwhile those bodies who reject motherhood will be submitted to consequences that have been ‘updated’ by increased surveillance in the form of any number of high technology wars, mass violence, increased stalking, empowered white supremacist cells, and general forms of social pressure that can ensure the sanctioning of those who do not submit to norms complicit within patriarchal legitimacy. The surrounding structures that socially and institutionally police bodies are far more forceful today than they were when the constitution was written. And since then, multiple disciplines and fields of psychoanalysis and biology have naturalized hetero-procreation as the mandatory center of life, from Freud and Darwin to reddit discussion that anthropomorphize the natural world in terms of the procreative habits of varying species, and ‘riff’ on what “natural” gendered behavior should be according to imperializing whims.

The spectacle of misogyny in the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas several decades prior, including the “innocence” campaign waged by Johnny Depp or the general possibility of defamation and non-disclosure agreements for high profile rapists, form but a few of the exemplary chains of formal signs with increasing powers of social composition.

Making abortion less accessible will further conscript women into fields of invisible and unpaid labor, making childbearer bodies vulnerable to raising children at whichever level of poverty the State sanctions. The State has already realized billions of dollars in value in the unpaid labor of childbearers enduring toil in the name of “labors of love,” as well as the exploitative work of reproductive bodies coerced into states of desperation, as Sylvia Federici has pointed out. In her terms, profit from women’s unpaid and exploited labor, including but not limited to the production of future populations of workers, has been used to feed war machines, thereby moulding social reality into ever more virulent patriarchal forms.

IV

In Caliban and the Witch, Federici argues that these conditions are both historical and intentional: it was cheaper for the Catholic Church, who was for centuries the main land and wealth holder in Europe, to pay only a male laborer rather than the family supporting him. The Church thus organized the family unit and laws pertaining to the body, including marriage, accordingly. This meant that the wives of man-laborers, the people performing maintenance (food production and preparation, childcare, care for the sick and elderly, mental support) as support for the productivity of their wage-receiving husbands, and also caregiving, material tasks, and the work of the body involved in producing the next generation of workers, would never receive their own wage. By being naturalized into biology, the law-holding theistic institution that operated as the main boss and master, created an exploitation economy that has sprawled outward to consume almost all informal and marginalized labor forms. The production of a culture of silence around forced birth and all of the fallout that will follow for the lives of apparently ‘capable’ childbearing bodies will also have consequences across the entire informal labor economy, and for all genders therein.

In Federici’s account, the Church responded to the scarcity of workers in Europe as a result of the Plague by producing policies to benefit the maintenance of church properties and functions that required a plethora of human capital, and thus a social reality built on procreation. In order to create this economy of its own self-interest, the Church walled off common lands that had previously been used for autonomous food production, and created laws around sex, sodomy (ie non-procreative sex) and childbirth. This counter revolution over decades finally managed to force into submission a heretic movement of people who lived relatively more similarly to the so-called autonomies of current life in atheistic and non-fundamentalist contexts.

The Gutenberg Bible emerged to popularize, naturalize and sacralize the family unit and heterosexual marriage, to construct childbearing as the center of social reality in order to enforce procreation and therein the production of human capital.

Abortion has never been fully sanctioned or supported in the US. And yet, given the recent visibility of workers who served to protect and maintain life in the context of the pandemic, it seems no accident that the traditionalists further sanction the life necessities of bodies in this moment of the coronavirus, in which normally invisible forms of labor, including the toil of the body and the costs to the body in health and vitality, are being obviated. Such a sea change in what constitutes valuable and remunerable work would threaten the very basis of the profiteering economy. Moreover, the Church’s protocols, laws and doctrines that produced imperialization over the body, from the walling (‘hedging’) off of common lands to the sodomy laws to the mandate of ‘a marriage between a man and a woman,’ enforced domestic labor and forced birth, were all created during the plague; in the wake of an ebb of labor power in the context of mass death, illness and a worker re-thinking of the value of life over toil and submission. The historical reality of the plague bears similarities to the conditions produced by covid. The pandemic has intensified fundamentalist logic and brought to the fore the 500-800 year old period in which the Church began to realize its need for labor power/workers by re-organizing all elements of economy and a mutually composing social reality, including the relations of production of the present and the reproductive body as the key to controlling the labor relations of the future, especially the unborn worker. According to Federici, racism and misogyny also had to be created in order to keep laborers from uniting in protest, and people with wombs from controlling the future worker population, not only in number but also in temperament.

The fundamentalism that sees reproduction as profit in the form of unborn laborers is not interested in the personhood of women. Neither healthcare nor consent matter or are considered the responsibility or in the interest of the Christian State. While non-fundamentalist views understand forced birth as fiscally catastrophic as a result of what a multi-dimensional influx of traumatized bodies will cost, the traditionalists have a totally different calculation of profit, a different understanding of labor power, and of human aim. The fundamentalist algorithm of accumulation and functionality excise factors that non-fundamentalists find essential. It’s because of a calculation that ignores State responsibility for human life, leading to institutionalized rape and death and privation for religious aims, that even the most dogmatically capitalist arguments that are non-fundamentalist can find no equivalence or commensurability or appeal even along the most material or profiteering lines.

V

Bodies with the capacity to bear children are not responsible for the fact that they are fetishized for sexual abuse across the globe. Along with the elderly, people with disabilities and children, (all of whom are being raped in the Ukraine along with a program that targets everyone), people who get pregnant will suffer an increase in long term material consequences. What emerges in the next 20 years in Poland and the US after rape victims have been forced to bear the children of extreme trauma will shed light on the catastrophe such policies produce. One can only hope that the children of trauma and forced birth will not be compliant in perpetuating such a regime in the future, and that being born out of trauma will produce for them an alternative rather than static vision for the future.

Poland’s forced birth program is directly relevant to the US situation because, in the few States that offer rape exemptions, making use of them will be predicated on the safety of coming forward. A social reality that does not permit abortion is unlikely to provide a safe environment for rape victims to become vocal. Forced birth will strengthen masculine power by making sexual relations higher stakes and by making rape into a more lasting form of abuse, offering the rapist long term control of his victim. By re-instating a culture of shame, and by enforcing the mother role, the family unit, silent suffering and a rigid social experience will bring the capacity to ‘breathe’ well beneath the minimum at which it currently functions.

Women who are rape victims in particular along with any other abortion seekers have not consented to life with a child. The ruling is a crucial violation of life. Those who cannot abort are likely not to have the means or the mental and physical ability for such a life. Within the context of trauma, the State has an opportunity to steer the fate of children too damaged to perform any but the most exploitative labor, to also hyper-exploit mothers living in a state of desperation, or a subsequent population cut off from its familial culture by trauma, to untether and unmoor subjects in order to make them afresh as productive labor aka potential “tabula rasa” for State purposes. In this context, social networks will be necessary to help traumatized children withstand being alive as critical readers rather than menial cogs, and to create collectives of belonging that hold them away from a violent fate of disposability masquerading as depression, ideation or religious fundamentalism.

Materialist feminists have long observed that calculations of demographics place statistics of predicted pregnancies in relation to immigrant influx and other controls pertaining to material economy. Policies relating to abortion and what social discourse shames or encourages, and how that is engineered across forms of current media or in more historical or medieval forms of advertising, are generally steered by how heads of State require a work force or allocate resources. These practices of analysis for the purpose of policy are not dissimilar to the ideology of war in which the body and the human are subjugated for abstract experiments based on human predictions with unknown outcomes.

VI

The US has long fought over abortion as one of the last frontiers of bodily autonomy after what were reintroduced later as ‘rights,’ separated, severed, alienated via preciousness, specificity and class selection, and annihilated in Europe before the Enlightenment. In recent decades, the US holds immigrants at borders as it “processes them” while making considerations about whether to let them in based on demographics. If a class of mostly Black and Brown people too poor to travel to liberal States for abortions is forced to reproduce, the US can shut down its borders without losing out on the global competition for human capital.

Maria Mies summarized how programs such as forced birth are only limited to being misogynistic at their beginning. She wrote extensively on how bodies that have the capacity to bear children were targeted for the State’s experiments in exploitation, to be implemented later in different forms across broader swaths of population. Every non-capital owning body should become aware that policies of forced birth foreshadow an oncoming onslaught of aggression by owners of capital that will produce more categories of intensively exploited labor, that are likely to effect even privileged classes of the iterated White worker who meets the standard definition. It is here that ‘replacement theory’ must stand in as an alibi for the declining labor conditions of the heretofore relatively privileged White worker who uses this notion to retain a position as ‘the authentic’ as his own material stability crumbles.

I suggest that we turn to materialist feminism and its analysis of the evolution of gender constructs in relation to profit. For what Mies calls “time lag feminism,” or the body of work supporting the idea that women need to ‘catch up’ to men, or the idea of a linear history that ought to progress rather than ‘turn back’ can only yield short term gains in the endless tennis match that was designed by the Enlightenment to ensure that a regime of personality cults, class and identity hierarchies remain static. The idea that women are a generation ‘behind’ men constitutes a kind of white feminism in which women seek to supplant men in a machine that is built by imperializing desires and values.

Analyses might henceforth begin with the understanding that traditions are not going to protect the people they promise to exclude. The labor movements of the left must begin to take gender and reproduction much more seriously as intrinsic to how accumulation and profiteering maintain themselves, placing at the fore the understanding that reproduction is future labor power. Consent is also a crucial barometer for how to resist the historical and ideological imperialization with which the church has had a long-term agenda for recomposing a brutally disciplined and imperializing social reality. Consent literally checks in with the habitability of the body as well as its psychic and immaterial requirements.

Any movement that fails to understand that the battle to own and commandeer reproduction is the battle to own the labor, profit and accumulation of the future, and any movement that fails to understand the nuanced relationship between exploitation and consent is doomed to not only fail, but to play into the hands of imperial reality ad infinitum.

(Thanks to Cedrik Fermont for our conversations pertaining to the fact that every sexual identity has been raped in Ukraine, and the impact of abortion law in Poland for childbearing bodies.)

(By Dora Bleu)

(Image Credit: Caliban and the Witch)

Hope in a time of choler: Sierra Leone, Kenya, Antigua and Barbuda

Mothers and children in Sierra Leone, with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world

In streets and legislatures as well as in representations in news and social media, from Hungary to India to Brazil to Zimbabwe to the United States and beyond and between, these are trying times in which a threat of totalitarianism looms around us. Welcome to July 2022, where, on one hand, the Thunderdome continues to dominate our attention, but it’s not all gloom and doom. These are grim times. But they are not without hope. There is light, there is real and serious opposition in the Thunderdome. Consider the news this past week from Sierra Leone, Kenya, Antigua and Barbuda.

In Sierra Leone this week, President Julius Maada Bio and his cabinet announced their unanimous support for the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act which would decriminalize abortion, expand access to contraceptives, post-abortion care and other reproductive health services. On one hand, the support is important in and of itself for women and girls in Sierra Leone and beyond. At the same time, support for the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act is seen as part of the process of decolonization. The current law dates from 1861, during the English occupation of what became Sierra Leone. As President Bio pointedly noted, “At a time when sexual and reproductive health rights for women are either being overturned or threatened, we are proud that Sierra Leone can once again lead with progressive reforms. My government has unanimously approved a safe motherhood bill that will include a range of critical provisions to ensure the health and dignity of all girls and women of reproductive age in this country.” Sierra Leone joins Benin, which legalized abortion last year.

In March 2022 a High Court in Malindi, in Kenya, found abortion related arrests to be illegal. “The court noted that abortion care is a fundamental right under the Constitution of Kenya and that protecting access to abortion impacts vital Constitutional values, including dignity, autonomy, equality, and bodily integrity. It also ruled that criminalizing abortion under Penal Code without Constitutional statutory framework is an impairment to the enjoyment of women’s reproductive right”

This week, still in Kenya, Justice Okong’o Samson Odhiambo, appearing before the Judicial Service Commission during the Court of Appeal judges interviews, when asked about his views on abortion, responded, “My personal view is that people have the freedom to decide on what to do with their lives.”

Meanwhile, in Antigua and Barbuda this week, the High Court struck down a colonial-era law banning same-sex acts between consulting adults. The case was brought before the court by Orden David, an openly gay man; and Women Against Rape. High Court Judge Marissa Robertson ruled, “The right to privacy extends beyond the right to be left alone and includes the concept of dignity of the individual, aspects of physical and social identity, and the right to develop and establish relationships with other human beings.” Alexandrina Wong, President of Women Against Rape, agreed, noting “We are very much hoping the Antigua ruling will prompt other legal systems in the Caribbean to review their laws and policies, and how they impact on vulnerable populations.” Lucien Govaard, Co-Chair of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities, added, “We reiterate that it is time governments in the region let go of these colonial structures as they have no place in a modern, diverse, and developing the Caribbean.” According to the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, ECADE, three more Caribbean national courts will decide on similar cases by the end of 2022: St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Barbados.

The struggle for expansion of rights, decolonization, respect for human dignity is regional, transnational, and global. This week, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Antigua and Barbuda shine the light. It is time, way past time, governments, nation-State, societies, people let go of colonial structures.

A rainbow in Antigua

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: AfricaNews) (Photo Credit 2: LGBTQ Nation)

To Keep the Poor Poor…and Working

 

 

Fuck!

FUCK

FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK

The Supreme Court’s ruling, effectively dismantling Roe v. Wade and setting precedence that will roll back hard-won rights for minorities, women, and LGBTQ people was not a surprise. Documents that leaked before the ruling all but insured that Roe would not make it to the end of my lifetime, but still, the decision was read with the same emotions and feelings…

FUCK.

 

FUCK YOU.

 

FUCK EVERY DECISION YOU’VE MADE AND WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE.

 

FUCK YOU FOR TAKING AWAY THE RIGHTS THAT MY MOTHER, MY GRANDMOTHER HAD, FROM ME.

 

I am tired. I’m so tired. And I know, that organizing is a long and arduous process, full of losses and set back-with the endgame being victory. But I am tired. And I’M PISSED

 

This has never been about protecting the sanctity of life. Historically abortion bans have never been about being pro-life, or about morality, or about anything that pertains to protecting the unborn or whatever a fetus is called in the eyes of hypocrites.

 

Abortion bans started in this country because of an influx of Catholic immigrants, striking fears about a Protestant minority (Comstock Laws). Abortion bans and controlling women’s sexuality have been about chattel slavery, creating an influx of enslaved black people when the slave trade was shut down.

 

Abortion and contraceptive bans were NOT stringently enforced when women had to replace men as laborers in the World Wars.

 

I wonder why?

 

And lastly, abortion bans pre-Roe were about a return of those men from war, and a forcing of women out of the workforce and back into where America thinks they belong-in the home, under patriarchal power.

 

We all know banning abortion doesn’t stop abortions. We know that abortion bans are one next step to beginning to ban contraceptive. And Covid highlighted the reason abortion bans and contraceptive bans are being reintroduced. FUCK, even those assholes in positions of power know. They’re not stupid-they’re pure evil.

 

It’s all about creating and sustaining an influx of those in positions of poverty.

 

Childbirth for people is about a descent into poverty. Raising children is expensive. Forcing people to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth without any insurance (a more than $20,000 bill), raise them without universal childcare, with no living wage, almost guarantees a pool of workers that can be exploited.

 

And given that poor people and workers were hardest hit during Covid-19 (they DIED), it’s more necessary to make sure there are people that can work low wage jobs. We do not have enough labor power to replace the aging population.

 

AND I AM SICK AND TIRED OF DEMOCRATS DOING NOTHING BUT SENDING ME FUNDRAISING EMAILS.   

 

The mistresses and wives of the people who struck down Roe—and are stamping on its ashes—will still be able to get abortions. They’ll be able to afford a ticket out of the state or, if a national ban is implemented (which it sure as fuck sounds like), a plane ride first class to another country.

 

Poor people, people of color, and queer people will be harmed the most from this loss.

 

But really, isn’t that what the Supreme Court wanted?

 

FUCK.

 

 

(By Nichole Smith)

(Image Credit 1: Simone Noronha / NBC) (Image Credit 2: by Raffaele Ciotola: Saatchi Art)

The spectacularly ordinary and vicious cruelty of the Supreme Court’s Gang of Six

A gang of six, with a stroke of a pen, condemned women in the United States to a world of second class, if that, `citizenship’; increased maternal mortality; peril and precarity. When patriarchy rules supreme, cruelty is the point, in this case masquerading as Constitutional concern, even when the Constitution is grossly misread. It’s a femicidal program, and pogrom, as old as patriarchy and capitalism, as Silvia Federici  noted twenty years ago, when she argued that the great witch hunts of Europe and then of the colonies, including the United States, focused on women’s reproductive knowledges and capacities in a campaign of degradation of women: “In the `transition from feudalism to capitalism’ women suffered a unique process of social degradation that was fundamental to the accumulation of capital and has remained so ever since.”

The United States has the highest maternal mortality of any so-called developed country. In 2018, the maternal mortality rate was 17.4 per 100,00 live births; in 2019, 20.1, in 2020, it was 23.8. At the time, 17.4 was considered astronomical, compared to national comperes. It was. 23.8 is criminal. For non-Hispanic Black people, the maternal mortality rates for those three years are 37.3, 44.0, 55.3, respectively. The recent decision will only intensify this situation, raising maternal mortality rates, already critical and criminal, precipitously. According to one study, a nationwide ban would raise maternal mortality rates by 21%. It would raise maternal mortality rates among non-Hispanic Black people by 33%. This decision merges Witch Hunt with Jane Crow, with altogether predictable consequences of increased mortality, intensified control, devastation, immiseration. Women, and especially women of color, will become refugees in their own lands and their own bodies. As Federici noted, again, the degradation of women is always forced through programs of privatization, in which women are separated from land, home, community, body, self.

The Economic Consequences of Being Denied an Abortion”, published in 2020, brings the impact of denied access to abortion home … literally. Debts increase by 78%, bankruptcy and eviction increase by 81%: “Women who were denied an abortion experience a large increase in financial distress that is sustained for several years … We find evidence that being denied an abortion has large and persistent negative effects on a woman’s financial well-being. Women denied an abortion experience a significant increase in financial distress during the year that they give birth. Unpaid debts that are 30 or more days past due more than double in size, and the number of public records, which include negative events such as evictions and bankruptcies, increases substantially. This financial impact extends…up to four years after the birth year …. The impact of being denied an abortion on collections is as large as the effect of being evicted and the impact on unpaid bills is several times larger than the effect of losing health insurance …. Denying a woman an abortion reduces her credit score by more than the impact of a health shock resulting in a hospitalization or being exposed to high levels of flooding following Hurricane Harvey.”

The impact on women, children, communities, generally, and even more on Black and Brown women, children, communities is known. There’s no mystery here, and no misprision of either the Constitution or of a sense of humanity can be allowed to cloud the issue. Along with the immediate violence visited upon women’s bodies, lives, dreams, the long-term impact built into a ban on abortions is eviction and homelessness; severe reduction of access to education, health care, social services; increasing inequality; more deaths, more debts.

Yet again we encounter the ordinary, everyday cruelty of necropower: “In our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead.” Cruelty is the point.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Caliban and the Witch)

Criminalization in Texas and Celebrations in Mexico

“Today is a historic day for the rights of all Mexican women,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Arturo Zaldivar. “It is a watershed in the history of the rights of all women, especially the most vulnerable.” On Tuesday, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that making abortion a crime was unconstitutional, establishing a precedent for legalizing abortion nationwide in a conservative Catholic country of approximately 120 million people.

The unanimous ruling from the nation’s top court follows a growing women’s movement in Mexico that has taken to the streets of major cities across the country, demanding greater rights and protections for women against femicide and violence against women.

This landmark ruling comes on the heels of a measure that Governor Greg Abbott signed into law to prohibit abortions as early as six weeks in Texas. Senate Bill 8 (S.B. 8) or the “Heartbeat bill” includes cases where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. There is an exception for medical emergencies. Additionally, the S.B. 8 opens the door for almost any private citizen to sue abortion providers and others—making this bill the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S.

The passage of S.B. 8 comes after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case concerning a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks. Sequentially, it could lead to new limits on abortion rights. It is the first major abortion case heard before the court’s newly expanded conservative majority.

These two milestones in abortion rights have demonstrated two sharp contradictions in prioritizing women’s rights globally. It is blatantly obvious women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. are and will always be under the threat of attack. In addition to S.B. 8, the Texas Legislature has also enacted a lengthy list of conservative priorities on transgender rights, voting, and teaching about racism in schools—contradictory to the notion of the U.S. as a global leader in creating and promoting human rights.

The future of the Roe v. Wade remains uncertain. One thing is certain, countries around the globe are shifting to a new global standard for women’s rights and protections. But, more importantly, countries like Argentina and Mexico are global leaders in creating and promoting human rights and women’s rights.

(By Tatiana Ruiz)

(Photo Credit: AFP / La Jornada)

In El Salvador, Sara Rogel was (almost) released from prison. She should have never been there

“The witch-hunt, then, was a war against women; it was a concerted attempt to degrade them, dehumanize them, and destroy their social power. At the same time, it was in the torture chambers and on the stakes on which the witches perished that the bourgeois ideals of womanhood and domesticity were forged.”  Silvia Federici

Sara del Rosario Rogel García, aka Sara Rogel, has spent the last ten years in a prison in eastern El Salvador for a crime she never committed which wasn’t a crime in the first place but which non-crime event never occurred. Once again, El Salvador is willing, even eager, to sacrifice a young woman’s life in the pursuit of complete control over women’s lives, bodies, everything. On Monday, a judge ruled that Sara Rogel could be released from prison because she no longer presented “a danger” to society. Sara Rogel still sits in prison, however, because the prosecution has five days to appeal. Even if Sara Rogel is released from prison, at the end of the week, it is clear that her `freedom’ will be conditional, as was the case with Cindy Erazo last year, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz in 2019, Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín and Teodora Vasquez in 2018, all women who were wrongly imprisoned … and for what?

In 2012, 21-year-old Sara Rogel was a student and was pregnant, a pregnancy of which,  according to her attorney, she was happy. While doing laundry, Sara Rogel slipped, fell, suffered a miscarriage, hemorrhaged, had to be taken to the hospital, where she was initially charged with an illegal abortion and then with aggravated murder. Sara Rogel was sentenced to 30 years in prison. From the moment Sara Rogel was charged to today, feminist groups, human rights advocates, international groups such as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights protested the violations of Sara Rogel’s basic human rights. At first, to no avail, but finally, this week, a bit of light began to flicker through. For the last ten years, and beyond, Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, has led, pushed, persisted.

Cindy Erazo, Evelyn Beatríz Crus, Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín, Teodora Vasquez, and Sara Rogel, together, spent a total of 44 years in prison … a life time. For what? For having suffered an obstetric emergency? No. When will Sara Rogel be free, and who will pay for the years of captivity? When and where does the witch hunt end? Where is the global outrage at the torture being visited upon women, especially young women, in El Salvador and beyond?

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

 

(Photo Credit: CNN)

Banning abortion isn’t about morality: It’s the economy

Stop trying to convince anti-abortion folks that they should listen to the stories about a person’s choice with abortion: they don’t care. I don’t mean to imply that people who have had abortions should not go public, as it helps to end the stigma even within pro-choice organizations. Those in positions of power could care less about a person’s abortion story because the problem was never abortion. Just look at the extensive list of anti-abortion advocates whose motto boils down to “it’s OK for me; evil for thee.” A person shouldn’t have to air their personal and complex decisions with the hope that it would change some terrible peoples’ minds. It won’t, because it was never about abortion. 

Why, at this moment, are abortion bans happening? Think about the economic and population consideration that cause the state and those in power to decide that abortion and other contraceptives are suddenly immoral, that a woman’s essential purpose in life was motherhood and that sex was only for reproductive purposes. And if the birth of that child causes even more economic strain and forces those who can get pregnant into low-wage and exploitative labor? Well, that’s par for the course. If people have no choice but to pay back multiple medical bills even though they gave the child up for adoption? Well, get a second or third job. And if a person dies because they sought a back-alley abortion. Well, they deserved that punishment. A person goes to prison for miscarrying or for seeking an abortion only because they haven’t served their purpose of producing the next generation of workers, laborers and child-bearers, and the state deserves retribution, because we’re starting to need those next generations, desperately.

Abortion access and contraceptives have been banned or legalized depending on the state’s political and economic needs. Prior to the 19thcentury, a person could to a physician and end her pregnancy as long as it was before they could feel the fetus move. Growing concerns over the rise of Catholic immigrants served as a pretext for the rise of restriction to abortion, since immigration was infringing on the White Anglo-Saxon majority and Protestant were having fewer children. The first attempts at opposition to abortion and contraception were the Comstock Laws in 1873, passed to regulate information to the public about abortion, contraception, and sexually explicit material such as pornography. Fetal personhood hardly came into the argument until the early 20thcentury, and that argument was subsumed by the rise of religious morality which tied sex solely to the role of reproduction and not for pleasure. 

States implementing abortion restrictions saw birthrates drop from 37 to 29 births per 1000 population. Between 1900 and 1935-39 birth rates dropped to 17 per 1000, causing that lowering birthrates would have disastrous effects on the industrialized economy, which relied on the reproduction of laborers in the workforce. For enslaved peoples, access to birth control and abortion was expressly forbidden, since slaveowners saw slave children as adding to their human capital. Slaveowners routinely would put slaves together with the hopes of children being produced and tied a person’s status as a slave to the status of their mother, ensuring a continuous supply of enslaved individuals. 

Numerous examples highlight how abortion access and restriction is tied to economic and population needs of the state and elites in power. Despite its landmark ruling, Roe v. Wade was a continuation of regulating for those needs. Nowhere in the majority opinion does an individual’s choice come into the fore: 

“A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a life-saving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgement of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.

For the stage of subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, [emphasis added] the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health. 

For the stage subsequent to viability, [emphasis added] the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgement, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother…

This holding, we feel, is consistent with the relative weights of the respective interests involved, with the lessons and examples of medical and legal history, with the lenity of common, and with the demands of the profound problem of the present day.”

Even in such an important decision, the Supreme Court has given the state leeway to enact and decide regulations for a person’s right to choose what happens to their bodies. Wade was the beginning, but the work still needed to be done. Anti-abortion backlash happened almost immediately after the decision.

What is the economic and population landscape of American society now that is leading us back to a time where people are going to be criminalized for seeking abortions? What are people not seeing when it comes to the political landscape, where white men in positions of power can cry for the life of the fetus but demand that a mistress seek termination of a pregnancy? 

The US birthrate fell to a 32-year law in 2018, a 2% drop since 2017. Birthrates fell across all racial lines, a 1% fall for Latinx people and a 2% fall to Black and White individuals. The economy is desperate for higher birthrates, both for the future labor force and caregivers for the aging population. Instead of fixing economic factors that would lead to higher birthrates – a living wage, parental leave, a robust welfare state and single-payer healthcare –, states would rather criminalize any form of birth control to get the desired results. 

These decisions are further impelled by white supremacist ideology. Since the United States is going to have to rely heavily on immigrants to supplement those labor needs, a white majority in an Anglo-Saxon society is once again in “danger” of turning into a minority. The same racist fears that led to bans in abortion and contraceptives are being rehashed. That is why we cannot rely on the state, Democrats in power and a better President to save us by telling the stories of the individuals that have had abortions. That is why calling for safe abortions to happen because back-alley abortions will kill people won’t matter.  Again, they don’t care. Stop giving pro-life the “sensible” debate about a person’s choice. From here on, and as before, we can only rely on each other to ensure a person’s bodily autonomy.

 

(Photo Credit: Women’s Web)

The latest bandwagon of anti-abortion bills in the US: Heartbeat or heartless?

The “heartbeat bill,” a euphemism for a fetus endowed with life, conjures in people’s minds the villains of mother and, in some cases, the State, murdering the person in the womb. Since Roe v Wade, the anti-abortion movement in the U.S has launched strategies to establish the personhood of the fetus. Numerous initiatives over the past 30 years in many states have tried to establish that full life as a person starts at the moment of conception.  The heartbeat bill in Mississippi signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on March 21st2019 was just the next step after the failure of initiative 26 Life Begins at the Moment of Fertilization Amendment (2011).  The move from Initiative 26 to the heartbeat bill is easy transition. The heartbeat bill effectively dramatizes the war between mother and womb-inhabitant to a new level—to the very tip of the iceberg: the banning of abortion. Period. Roe v Wade that has somehow survived for 40 years, often barely a whisper in many states lately, seems to be in the middle of its death rattle in others. In the first quarter of 2019, the heartbeat bill was introduced successively in Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Utah, Mississippi, and Missouri. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “governors in four states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Utah) signed a total of eight measures that ban abortion in one way or another. Similar measures passed the legislature in Arkansas and Georgia and were adopted by one chamber of the legislature in six other states…. So far this year, these restrictions have been enacted in Kentucky and Mississippi; passed the legislature in Georgia; and passed one chamber of the legislature in Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. The new law in Kentucky would have gone into effect immediately, but a federal district court issued an order blocking enforcement. The Mississippi legislation is scheduled to take effect in July. Only two other states, Iowa and North Dakota, have ever enacted six-week abortion bans, both of which have been struck down by the courts.” 

In addition to the heartbeat bill, Kentucky has already passed laws restricting private insurance coverage of abortions, mandating a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors. Like Mississippi, Kentucky has only one abortion clinic. One can see clearly how women are severely restricted from obtaining abortions.

What is cruel about the heartbeat bill? According to this bill, women can terminate their pregnancy before 6 weeks. How can this be possible when women generally find out they are pregnant only after 6 weeks? “Some physicians won’t even perform abortions before around six weeks of pregnancy; an embryo at that stage is so small that it might not be visible on an ultrasound, which is used to ensure that a pregnancy is not ectopic, or growing outside the uterus.”

If the heartbeat bill is not a weapon against women’s bodies, their fundamental right to their bodies, the choice to give birth or not, I don’t know what is! As Brigitte Marti says, “One of the great mistakes is to look at the demise of women’s rights as an isolated event. Soaring inequality and legislative measures to control women’s health and rights work together to disempower women and civil society.”

What’s more, many of the states where the heartbeat bill has passed or is in the legislative process have a shortage of obstetricians and have high maternal death rates.

This heartless law targets minority and poor women. How can the United States boast about being the spokesperson for women’s rights when it is shackling women and keeping them imprisoned in age-old ideas about sexuality, contraception, reproduction, and health? It feels as if the major legislative triumphs of women’s equal participation in society and to themselves are being severely undercut by restrictive anti-abortion laws like the latest heartbeat bill.

We see these restrictions on women’s rights happening worldwide. Even in a country like India where abortion has been legal since 1971, the number of unsafe abortions are at a record 25 million, abortion is legal only until 20 weeks, exceptions do exist, but the stipulation is that the woman be married. “An amendment was proposed in the MTP Act by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in October 2014. The bill proposed certain very valid propositions, such as extension of the legal abortion limit to 24 weeks,” but it was dead in the water.

It is truly disheartening when women themselves are the strongest voices proclaiming the need to make abortion illegal. But we need to keep voicing the injustice in the bills and highlight the harm it does to the poor, people of color, and women in general and make the connection between reproductive rights and our equality as human beings. We don’t want to say “before the law,” because we need the law to recognize that we are indeed humans with full rights before we can legitimately stand before the law.

 

(Photo Credit: Rewire)

#NiUnaMenos: In Argentina women made history by insisting women’s autonomy must matter


In Argentina today, the lower legislative house, la Cámara de los Diputados, after long and intensive debate, voted to decriminalize abortion. The vote was 129 in favor, 125 opposed. The bill now goes on to the Senate, which is not expected to pass, but these days … who knows? Across Latin America and the Caribbean, where 97 percent of women live in countries with restrictive abortion laws, today’s legislative step by the Argentine lower house is viewed as a clear breakthrough, a historic moment. Around the world, women and their supporters are watching and hailing the event as historic as well. Today’s vote is historic because of what it portends for women’s access to real reproductive health services, rights and power. Today’s vote is equally historic because it indicates that women are making historic, step by step, year by year. Today’s Argentine vote occurred at all because of the work of Ni Una Menos and their supporters, who began breaking rules and making history when they refused to accept femicide and other forms of violence against women as an “unfortunate but inevitable” aspect of Argentina machismo. They said, No more! They yelled, Ni una menos! And they have caused the ground to tremble and the walls to shake. Ni una menos! #NiUnaMenos!

Two years ago, in October, under the banner of Ni Una Menos, women declared a general strike against all violence against women. Women had already been organizing against violence against women for two years. Argentine women had been organizing as well for thirty years, in various encuentros and other structures. They decided, Enough is enough! They organized the first national women’s strike in Argentine history, and they shut the nation down. At the time Ni Una Menos argued, “Behind the rise and viciousness of the femicidal violence lies an economic plot. The lack of women’s autonomy leaves us more unprotected when we say no and so leaves us as easy targets for trafficking networks or as `cheap’ bodies for both the drug and the retail markets … While the average unemployment in Argentina is 9.3 percent, for women it is 10.5.” At the center of the web of intersections lay women’s autonomy.

Two years later, Ni Una Menos women, and their supporters, brought that argument to halls of Argentina’s congress. They filled the streets. They told story after story after story of those who had had to endure the pain and danger of illegal abortions. Students led, occupying schools, filling the streets. Workers joined in. From the mass demonstrations two years to today’s vote, the women of Argentina, as an organized self-identified autonomous political movement, have mobilized in every way, day by day by day. They have taken the stories and turned them into educative moments. They have taken the educative moments and turned them into votes. They have taken the swords and plowshares and turned them into women’s power. At the center of all this is the simple and complex understanding that women’s autonomy lies at the center of everything … or there is nothing.

When today’s vote was announced, the shouting inside and outside the legislature was described as “louder than when Lionel Messi scores a goal.” Today’s vote was historic and, for some, revolutionary. In Argentina today, women made revolutionary history possible, once again, by insisting and forcing the State to take on that women’s autonomy must matter. Ni una menos! #NiUnaMenos #AbortoLegalYa

(Photo Credit: Pagina12 / Bernardino Avila) (Image Credit: Le Monde)

Stop Punishing Poor Women’s Sexuality Through Abortion Bans!

Nearly 1 in 4 women under the age of 45 will have had an abortion. Women’s access to abortion continues to be a matter of contention between mostly white, mostly male, politicians who tout about the sanctity of life while simultaneously working to deny the benefits that women and children rely on to survive. Rather than help those children who rely on social assistance and the state for healthcare (literally by letting a program insuring 9 million children expire) and food, Congress has moved forward with a national ban on abortions past 20 weeks.

Anti-choice hypocrisy would rather claim that the rights “of a human being who has never taken a single breath a single breath are more important than the rights of the person with thoughts, a past, relationships and emotions that would be forced to renounce her bodily autonomy to accommodate the fetus.” The fight for a fetus’ life ends the moment a child is born; it does not continue as the child is raised, especially the fifteen million children who live in poverty in the United States.

Abortion bans are not implemented to curtail abortion rates. If one truly wishes to see the end of abortion, there would be universal access to various forms of birth control, along with comprehensive sexual education in public schools to help the decrease in teenage pregnancy rates; these methods have effectively helped to decrease the abortion rate, which occurred in 1 in 3 women in 2008. Abortion bans continue across the country because it is the state’s way of controlling women’s, especially poor women’s, sexuality. It is a method of punishing women’s sexual freedom, while make their struggle to survive ever more precarious. As Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice, noted, “When we take away a women’s choices about her own body, we hamper her ability to make sound decisions for her and her family. We force her into her tougher bargains to make ends meet. We threaten her capacity to thrive. We hurt her ability to raise children that are healthy and resilient. And we perpetuate cycles of poverty.”

That is what anti-choice men in power want: poor women forced to have children, forced to work nearly any wage to care for said children, to survive. A never-ending pool of desperate labor willing to work for scraps to avoid starvation, and then the continued reproduction of those poor pools of labor in the form of their children. Means of sustaining an exploitative capital regime hide under the guise of being pro-life.

A continued insistence on women’s necessity to remain chaste and virginal perpetuates the belief that women are only sexual for the sake of procreation, and never for pleasure. Harper’s Bazaar has the best response for the continued control of women’s decision to have sex for enjoyment:

“There are certainly going to be people who will reply to this by shouting, ‘then women should keep their damn legs shut.’ No. Go crawl back to the time capsule you came out of. 95 percent of Americans have pre-marital sex. 9 months of unwanted pain and possibly death is not an acceptable punishment for being unlucky while engaging in an almost universally practiced past time. It is the punishment for 0 percent of men, which is the correct percentage.”

Today, the United States has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. We save the fetus to kill the woman. We proclaim the rights of the fetus’ “life” while exploiting and killing the poor women who are forced to bear it. That is not pro-life; that is anti-woman. When we scream “Never Again!”, we are not only demanding the protection of women to have a safe and legal abortion. We are protesting the desire to revert to a time when women died from illegal and dangerous abortions. And as our elected officials gleefully hinder the march of progress for women’s reproductive freedom, women and men everywhere should continue to raise their voices to make sure we hinder them every step of the way.

(Photo Credit: Women’s Web)