Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Law Professor Refutes False Claims that New York's Reproductive Healthcare Act Increases Domestic Violence
Some reports following New York’s passage of the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) asserted that the RHA somehow increases the risk of gender violence. NAPW and Professor Julie Goldscheid (CUNY Law School) authored a statement challenging those claims, and other false claims linking laws criminalizing abortion and related feticide laws with protection of women from violence.
Claims that laws such as the RHA pose a threat to women’s safety, and that laws criminalizing abortion somehow protect people from gender violence are dangerous and totally unfounded. We write to speak out against gender violence in all its forms and to oppose false claims about criminal abortion laws that distract attention from real threats to life and health.
We call for laws and policies based on evidence-based research and urge all those who are truly concerned with preventing intimate partner and other forms of gender violence to oppose laws that can be used to criminalize people for seeking to control their bodies and their lives. Instead, they should support universal health care and other needed services for everyone, including survivors.
Monday, July 29, 2019
July 19 was the anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, the nation’s first women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. This episode explores what happened at the historic convention, and how its legacy shaped the Constitution through the fight for women’s suffrage and the 19th Amendment and, later, landmark gender equality and reproductive rights cases, including Roe v. Wade. Women and law scholars Erika Bachiochi of the Ethics & Public Policy Center and Tracy A. Thomas of the University of Akron School of Law join host Jeffrey Rosen.
My discussion draws on my book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYUP 2016) tracing pioneering women's rights leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton's work in organizing the Seneca Falls Convention and leading the first women's rights movement for over fifty years.
Here is the Declaration of Sentiments waterfall outside the Women's Rights National Park in Seneca Falls, reflecting Stanton's words.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Legal Thinking about the Declaration of Sentiments for Women's Rights at Seneca Falls on its 171st Anniversary
July 19 & 20 celebrated the 171st anniversary of women's first official demand for equal political, civil, and religious rights in the Declaration of Sentiments at Seneca Falls, New York. The Women's Rights National Historical Park now sits at the sight of the Wesleyean Church where the convention took place, and is worth a visit.
I have written much about the Declaration of Sentiments and its author, pioneering feminist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The Declaration and its articulation of 18 necessary rights for women, as well as its structural elimination of "separate spheres" of women's inferiority, essentially provided a road map for legal and social reform for women's equality and equity.
I spoke about the history a bit with the National Constitution Center in a forthcoming We the People podcast.
I wrote about the broad agenda of the Declaration and the first women's rights movements in the forthcoming article, More Than the Vote: The Nineteenth Amendment as Proxy for Gender Equality, Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
I traced its historical origins and legal significance particular in the area of family law and social rights in my book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYUP 2016). I blogged about the opening chapters addressing the context and specifics of the Declaration of Sentiments, here at Introduction and here, "What Do You Women Want?.
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
There is a lot of current interest in this 100th anniversary year of the 19th Amendment and the campaign for women's rights on whether the early feminists supported abortion.
The Atlantic has this recent article: Olga Khazan, Did the Suffragists Support Birth Control? (featuring historians Linda Gordon and Lisa Tetrault)
I was interviewed in a previous article in The Atlantic about the question: The Abortion Debate and the Legacy of Women's Suffrage (June 2019)
And I spoke about this topic, among other things regarding the first women's rights movement, in this We The People podcast with the National Constitution Center.
There is interest because abortion is such a key issue of women's rights and women's oppression today. Both pro-choice and pro-life women look for historical grounding as to what the first leaders thought.
As Linda Gordon has written in her seminal book on the topic, The Moral Property of Women, it is not that easy to make the connection as the context and the debate were different in the nineteenth century. Yet there was significant consensus among women reformers, both conservative and progressive, as to "voluntary motherhood" and the right of women solely to control pregnancy and marital relations through abstinence.
I have written more specifically about this question with respect to the views of pioneering feminist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Tracy A. Thomas, Misappropriating Women's History in the Law and Politics of Abortion, 36 Seattle L. Rev. 1 (2012)
I also wrote about this question of Stanton's views on abortion and birth control in my book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYUP 2016). Here is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of the book:
The “Incidental Relation” of Mother
The woman is greater than the wife or the mother; and in consenting to take upon herself these relations, she should never sacrifice one iota of her individuality to any senseless conventionalisms, or false codes of feminine delicacy and refinement. ~ Letter from Mrs. Stanton to Seventh National Woman’s Rights Convention, Nov. 24, 1856
Stanton continued to demand women’s freedom in marriage by focusing on a woman’s right to choose motherhood. In a time when motherhood defined all women culturally and legally, Stanton challenged the entrenched norm dictating that women’s primary role in life was that of mother. Womanhood, she said, was the “first consideration” of women’s own happiness: wifehood and motherhood secondary, “mere incidents of their lives.” Stanton identified women’s burdens from enforced motherhood resulting from their lack of reproductive control and men’s sexual privilege as victimization and oppression, not natural or ordained relations. Her solution was to give the woman alone the right to choose and control procreation. She demanded the law recognize a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and self-determination in sexual relations, a radical contribution to the evolving feminism.
The “sovereign right to her own person,” as Stanton articulated it, was a wife’s cognizable right to counter the husband’s common-law conjugal right. It was a right of sexual refusal and abstinence, not contraception. The nineteenth-century woman’s movement shared Stanton’s critique of the male sexual prerogative in marriage and endorsed this alternative ideology of “voluntary motherhood” establishing a wife’s right to refuse sexual relations. Women were entitled to this gendered, unilateral control over reproduction because of their individual right to bodily autonomy and because they alone bore the consequences of maternity to their physical health and livelihood from the obligations of childcare. Stanton encouraged women to exercise this right of sovereignty in their own marriages to produce fewer, but healthier children under an “enlightened motherhood” theory of maternity. This contradicted the social conservatism of the late nineteenth-century, which demanded that white, middle-class women fulfill their duty to produce more children “to preserve the race” against threats from increased immigration and racial diversity.
Women’s growing awareness of the oppression of forced maternity led to an increase in the practice of abortion by the mid-nineteenth century. The increase triggered moral outrage, public debate, and legislative reforms resulting in the criminalization of early-term abortions for the first time. Stanton joined the discussion on her own terms, eschewing the moralization and refocusing the debate on the underlying issues of women’s legal and social victimization. She attacked the double-standards of sexuality that tolerated male licentiousness, but imposed all costs of extramarital sex on women, from the social shunning of unwed mothers to the crimes of prostitution and infanticide. Stanton used the context of infanticide to make more sweeping criticisms of the structural defects of the legal system that excluded women at every level—as lawmakers, judges, juries, lawyers, and witnesses. Stanton demanded the participation of women in all aspects of the legal process to remedy the unjust prosecution of desperate acts like infanticide and the resulting injustice of judgment without mercy.
The terms of marriage in the nineteenth century included the husband’s prerogative to control sexual relations. A husband had the power to demand sexual intercourse, while the wife had the duty to submit. The law justified the husband’s sexual right to his wife’s body under a theory of initial consent to the marriage. Drawing from the political theory of consent of the governed, the justification was that the woman’s consent to marriage was irrevocable consent to all sexual relations at any time. This was a status-based rule, operating automatically for all marriages regardless of individual choice or dissent. The laws of marriage, divorce, and rape endorsed the husband’s sexual privilege. In divorce cases, courts refused to grant wives’ petitions on the basis of cruelty from forced marital sex, finding that “copulation itself was in the exercise of the marital right,” and a usual and expected part of marriage. At the extreme, this marital consent theory excused marital rape. Rape by definition could not be perpetrated against one’s wife. As English treatise writer Sir Matthew Hale explained the common law, “the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract.”
Feminists uniformly rejected this legally-sanctioned violence of forced sex and maternity. They instead advocated for “voluntary motherhood,” giving the wife the unilateral right to refuse sexual relations, abstaining periodically or permanently unless procreation was desired. There was wide consensus among women reformers on this issue, including the radical free lovers, the feminist suffragists, and conservative moral reformers. “On no question did the feminists agree so clearly as on . . . ‘voluntary motherhood’. . . incorporating both a political critique of the status quo, as involuntary motherhood, and a solution.” “Their priority was women’s right to say no to men.” These women proposed a radical reversal of the entrenched norms of marital power by granting women, and not men, the sole right to dictate the terms of marital sex.
Stanton voiced her strong rejection of this male sexual privilege and identified it as a source of women’s oppression. Writing to Anthony in 1853 about marriage as a key site of subordination, Stanton argued, “man in his lust has regulated long enough this whole question of sexual intercourse. Now let the mother of mankind, whose prerogative it is to set bounds to his indulgence, rouse up and give this whole matter a thorough, fearless examination.” A few years later, she featured forced maternity in her Paper on Marriage directed to a Quaker audience. “Have the best Christian men in this nation ever felt the least compunction of conscience, as they have contemplated, year by year, the drooping form, the pale check, the sunken eye, the joyless, hopeless life of the self-sacrificing wife, the mother of six, eight or ten children? . . . Victims all, to the lust and selfishness of those to whom they looked for care and support – dead, or suffering life, with the excessive cares and anxieties of maternity!” “All things,” she argued, “are inverted, disorganized, so long as the mother of the race is subjected to man—so long as all her holy intuitions of virtue, purity, chastity, are sacrificed to the lust and selfishness of man.”
Other women reformers shared Stanton’s indictment of male lust at women’s expense, including abolitionist and early feminist, Sarah Grimké. In an 1856 essay, Marriage, Grimke expressed her visceral reaction to how man subordinated women to his own passion by the principle of superior rights. Her critique stemmed from first-hand observations of the difficult and successive pregnancies of her sister, Angelina Grimké Weld, and the resulting disability that caused Angelina to abandon public abolition and women’s rights work. “Man seems to feel that Marriage gives him the control of Woman’s person just as the Law gives him the control of her property.” “Has she not been continually forced into a motherhood which she abhorred, because she knew that her children were not the offspring of Love but of Lust? Has she not in unnumbered instances felt in the deepest recesses of her soul, that she was used to minister to Passion, not voluntarily to receive from her husband the chaste expression of his love?” Grimké empathized with the shattered sentimentality of marriage in which women “entered the marriage relation in all purity and innocence expecting to realize completion of their own halfness the rounding out of their own being,” but “too soon discovered that they were unpaid housekeepers and nurses, and still worse, chattels personal to be used and abused at the will of a master.” “How many so called wives,” she challenged, “rise in the morning oppressed with a sense of degradation from the fact that their chastity has been violated, their holiest instincts disregarded, and themselves humbled under an oppressive sense of their own pollution, and that, too, a thousand times harder to bear, because so called husband has been the perpetrator of the unnatural crime.” The solution, she argued was “a right on the part of woman to decide when she shall become a mother, how often and under what circumstances.”
The feminists advocating voluntary motherhood developed a structural attack on forced marital sex looking beyond the individual behavior of husbands to the law and economics of marriage. Their phrase “legalized prostitution” encapsulated the idea of the legally proscribed exchange of sex for money in the dependency of marriage. “Is marriage sacred,” Stanton asked rhetorically, “where a woman consents to live in legalized prostitution! her whole soul revolting at such gross association!” Feminists challenged the basis of marriage which essentially was an economic transaction that rendered women socially and financially dependent upon their husband. The wife, like a street prostitute, was forced to submit to unwanted sex in exchange for monetary support. “If marriage was to rise above ‘legalized prostitution,’” Stanton argued, wives “needed personal freedom more than a legal right to control marital intercourse.” Freedom came only with economic independence and economic profession, providing the necessary alternative to marriage.
Mainstream popular literature picked up on the criticisms of involuntary motherhood, but rejected the feminists’ structural insights. Women’s magazines, novels, and popular guides to women’s health incorporated the feminist ideas of involuntary motherhood as legalized prostitution and agreed that women should control their husbands’ sexual access. However, these prescriptive writers focused on the solution of changing men’s individual behavior by appealing to “manly self-restraint” and men’s own self-interest. They persuaded men that they would be happier if their wives were happier, and wives would be happier if given respite from insistent demands for unwanted sex and pregnancy. This view played into the convention of the husband’s superior power, encouraging his benevolent use of it, rather than adopting the feminist demand for a wife’s prioritized right to make the decision herself.
“Sovereign of Her Own Person”
The most radical idea of the voluntary motherhood movement was a woman’s “right to her own person.” By this, the women’s rights advocates meant the right to bodily autonomy and individual control of their bodies for sex and procreation. They prioritized this right, claiming it as “a subject which lies deeper down into woman’s wrongs than any other.” As free love advocate Mary Gove Nichols wrote, “woman’s one, single, and supreme right and the one which includes all others, is her right to herself.” Stanton corresponded with Nichols in the early 1850s and agreed with her that “the right to control one’s body was the preeminent personal and political right.”
Stanton wrote publicly in 1855 to emphasize the centrality of the issue of sexual autonomy to women’s rights, “the battleground where our independence must be fought and won.” The vast majority of women, she said, regarded the present marital arrangements “with deep and settled disgust.” While rights to vote and hold property were important, “the sacred right of a woman to her own person, to all her God-given powers of body and soul,” was a great social and human right “before which all others sink into utter insignificance.” She focused on the idea that “to the mother of the race, and to her alone, belonged the right to say when a new being should be brought into the world.” Has man, she asked, “in the gratification of his blind passions, ever paused to think whether it was with joy and gladness that she gave up ten or twenty years of the heyday of her existence to all the cares and sufferings of excessive maternity?”
Lucy Stone begged Stanton to address the issue of “a wife’s right to her own body” at the Seventh National Women’s Rights Convention. Stone wrote, “I very much wish that a wife’s right to her own body should be pushed at our next convention. It does seem to me that you are the one to do it.” Stone though, prudish even by Victorian standards and sensitive to public rejection, refused to address the issue herself. Stanton obliged, writing a short letter to the convention, though it arrived too late to be discussed. Stanton called women to “a proper self-respect” and decried the marriage in which a woman accepted “herself as a mere machine, a tool for men’s pleasure.” Elsewhere, she elaborated on what she meant by a woman “owning her own body.” By this she meant “as opposed to the old common law of England, I deny the husband’s right . . . to burden her with the hardships of reproduction. . . I deny man’s right to seek gratification of his sexual nature at the expense of undermining the well being of the woman and her offspring.”
The New York Times attacked this assertion of a woman’s right of self-ownership, dismissing women’s claims of abuse from involuntary motherhood. The paper revealed what it assumed was shocking proposition that “the Woman’s Rights movement leads directly and rapidly in the same direction, viz. to Free Love, that extreme section of it we mean which claims to rest upon the absolute and indefeasible right of woman to equality in all respects with man and to a complete sovereignty over her own person and conduct.” Sarah Grimké responded to the attack by affirmatively embracing the charge: yes, she said, “this exposition of the principles of the Woman’s Rights movement I heartily accept. We do claim the absolute and indefeasible right of woman to an equality in all respects with man and to a complete sovereignty over her own person and conduct.” Human rights, she asserted are universal, not based upon sex, color, capacity or condition, and “none but despots will deny to woman that supreme sovereignty over her own person and conduct which Law concedes to man.” “Yet,” she said, “the Times is horror-struck at the idea of a woman’s claiming ‘A supreme sovereignty over her own person and conduct.’ Is it not time that she should? Has not man proved himself unworthy of the power which he assumes over her person and conduct?’
Stanton “understood a woman’s right to control her person as the foundational right upon which political and economic equality needed to rest if they were to have any value.” Writing to Anthony, she argued, “when we talk of woman’s rights, is not the right to her person, to her happiness, to her life, the first on the list?” She analogized to the slave on the southern plantation presented with the idea of the elective franchise, to which you might get a vacant stare. “The great idea of his right to himself, to his personal dignity, must first take possession of his soul.”
Stanton’s solution was for women to have the sole and absolute right to refuse marital sexual intercourse. This restructured the existing law of irrevocable consent to the marital contract and shifted the privilege of determining sexual relations to women. This was “an intensely gender-specific argument” for a right intended for women only, because they were the ones solely responsible for the physical demands of maternity itself and the caring and raising of children. Stanton, as the mother of seven children, experienced the social reality that imposed the work of raising children exclusively on women. She thus vividly understood “that women needed to have full control over marital intercourse so that they could determine how many children they would raise and when.”
Other feminists agreed with both Stanton’s view of the sovereign right to self-determination and her justification for that unilateral right stemming from women’s exclusive responsibility for bearing and raising children. “The law of motherhood should be entirely under woman’s control, . . . and that woman must first of all be held as having a right to herself.” As Grimké wrote, “surely as upon her alone devolves the necessity of nurturing unto the fullness of life the being within her and after it is born, of nursing and tending it thro’ helpless infancy and capricious childhood, often under the pressure of miserable health, she ought to have the right of controlling all preliminaries.” She described the “burden on woman by the care of many children following in quick succession,” and its resulting “unnatural tug upon her constitution.” She added, “if man had all these burdens to bear, would not he declare that common sense and common justice confer this right upon him.”
In the following decades, Stanton’s speeches and lectures aimed to convince women of their “right to their own person” and the “preservation of their own womanhood.” “Let us remember,” she repeated, “that womanhood is the great fact, wifehood and motherhood its incidents.” Must the heyday of her existence be wholly devoted to the one animal function of bearing children? Shall there by no limit to this but woman’s capacity to endure the fearful strain on her life?” In her “Marriage and Maternity” lecture, Stanton advised women that bearing children was not their sole duty and purpose, as they had been told. “We must educate our daughters,” she said, “first—to regard their own lives and bodies and the laws govern them.” She argued that “the preservation of their own womanhood was the one prime object of their lives.” Instead, she said, “as it is now, we look up to wives and mothers, and down on womanhood. This is wrong.” Stanton said she revered single women like “Susan B. Anthony and [sculptor] Harriet Hosmer who have done great things in the world without having borne children.” She continued “we must educate our girls that they are independent; that in the society of the refined they may be happy; that they may live peaceful, glorious lives, and take high seats in Heaven, without ever seeing a man.”
“The Science of Life”
Wide support for voluntary motherhood among women reformers and feminists did not, however, mean that these women endorsed contraception. Methods of birth control were known from ancient Egyptian times with rudimentary condoms, douches, diaphragms, and pessaries available, though many were derived from poisonous substances and incorrect science. Technical advances in 1844 with the patenting of vulcanized rubber allowed mass-production of condoms, and at mid-century advertisements for contraceptives appeared in most mainstream newspapers. Several books on birth control had been written, including utopian Robert Dale Owen’s Moral Physiology (1831), Dr. Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy (1832), and Dr. Edward Bliss Foote’s Medical Common Sense (1864). Foote also operated a clinic distributing information and patented devices to his patients until his arrest in 1876. Women’s health advocates began to preach on physiology or the “science of life” informing women of the details of sex, menstruation, and reproduction.
Stanton preached this new sexual physiology to women in her “Marriage and Maternity.” She reported to friends that this “new gospel of fewer children” was “gladly received.” “What radical thoughts I then and there put into their heads as they feel untrammeled, these thoughts are permanently lodged there! That is all I ask.” Her lectures uniquely for women only taught “the laws of life and health,” and advised them “to learn and practice the true laws of generation.” Stanton endorsed the theories of Dr. John Cowan and his book on sexual physiology, The Science of New Life. “I have read Dr. Cowan’s work, and made it my text-book in lectures, ‘to woman alone,’ for several years,” she wrote. Cowan detailed male and female anatomy and the biological functioning of sex and reproduction, believing that “knowledge must precede virtue.” He credited the many legitimate reasons women desired to prevent pregnancies, but cautioned that while “all manner and means are and have been used” to accomplish prevention, most as a rule caused physical or spiritual harm to the individual. He detailed the options for “the prevention of conception” including withdrawal, condoms, sponges, syringes, and the rhythm method. Condoms, he noted were effectual, but not pleasurable to the male. Sponges or rubber barriers, he stated, were widely used, but not reliable because often inserted incorrectly. Syringes with powders were “damaging to the vitality of the part” and unreliable. Cowan’s conclusion was that continence (abstinence) was the only appropriate method to prevent conception.
Audiences, however, questioned Stanton as to the practical realities of accomplishing prevention by this, or any other, means. In San Francisco, as reported by a male journalist who allegedly snuck into the women-only lecture in female disguise, one woman asked, “How can we follow your advice and keep from having children?” Stanton answered on two fronts: structural and personal. First, she said, “woman’s perfect independence is the answer to that query. Woman must at all times be the sovereign of her own person.” When asked a follow up question by a second woman, “What are we to do when men don’t agree with us?” Stanton gave a second suggestion, based on her support of the social purity idea of a single sexual standard and systemic reduction in the sexualization of women. She replied that men could be educated as to voluntary motherhood, that their passions could be controlled, and that women should stop stimulating men’s passions with dress, dance, and fashion with bare arms and bare necks. One lady then “asked a question which hinted at prevention by other than legitimate means.” The paper reported that “Mrs. Stanton promptly replied that such views of the matter were too degrading and disgusting to touch upon, and must be classified in the category of crime alongside infanticide.” Apparently Stanton, or perhaps the reporter, did not want to go on the record as supporting abortion, by then illegal in many states.
Stanton’s personal views on birth control are not clear. Biographers have concluded that her “writing was ambivalent on the subject of birth control.” “Some indicate that she was ignorant of contemporary methods of contraception, others indicate that she was aware of and approved of birth control, but did not practice it.” The evidence of Stanton’s large family of eight pregnancies (one miscarriage) in seventeen years, and her private frustration with this frequent childbearing, suggests that she did not use birth control or practice abstinence, even with her husband’s lengthy absences from home. As she reminisced in her diary, “I knew no better than to have seven children in quick succession. This was not Stanton’s obedience to her wifely duty, however, but rather an embracing of her own sexuality. “In contrast to many of her contemporaries, Stanton was aware of women’s sexuality, and she agreed with an 1853 phrenological analysis of herself as ‘able to enjoy the connubial relationship in a high degree.’” In another diary entry, she criticized a Walt Whitman poem for ignoring women’s sexuality. “He speaks as if the female must be forced to the creative act, apparently ignorant of the fact that a healthy woman has as much passion as a man, that she needs nothing stronger than the law of attraction to draw her to the male.”
Stanton’s public recommendation of abstinence, rather than birth control, was the common thinking among reformers at the time. Feminists in the nineteenth century opposed birth control as harmful, promiscuous, and contrary to broader demands for women’s empowerment. They feared the promiscuity contraception would facilitate by granting men free license to engage more freely in extramarital sex and prostitution. To separate sex from reproduction did not help women, as it merely allowed men to further indulge their sexual license and family irresponsibility. Contraception also contradicted the systemic goals of the women’s rights movement to empower women generally. While the movement sought freedom from excessive pregnancies and childbearing, it also sought respect and authority for motherhood and freedom from male sexual tyranny. “Abstinence helped women strengthen their ability to say no to their husbands’ sexual demands, . . . while contraception . . . would have weakened it.” The solution to both the problem of unwanted pregnancies and sexual tyranny was abstinence and a single sexual moral standard restraining both women and men’s sexual impulses. Nineteenth-century feminists “wanted to help women avoid pregnancy for physical or psychological reasons,” but not for the reason of permitting women to “engage freely and often in sexual intercourse” without the possibility of pregnancy.
From a modern perspective, “a principle of voluntary motherhood that rejects the practice of contraception seems so theoretical as to have little real impact.” But as historian Linda Gordon explains, the breakthrough of the voluntary motherhood movement was in its acceptance of women’s sexuality and women’s unilateral right to control it. “To suggest, as these feminists did, that women might have the capacity to be sexual subjects rather than objects, feeling impulses of their own, tended to weaken the claim that the maternal instinct was always dominant.” Voluntary motherhood was the radical theoretical foundation of the right of reproductive control; more specific strategies of birth control and abortion were adopted later as means by which to execute this fundamental right.
In the nineteenth century, however, the public discussion and dissemination of birth control information became illegal when it was banned as obscenity under the 1873 federal Comstock Law. The Comstock Law, named for moral purity crusader Anthony Comstock, prohibited the sale, offer, publication, possession, advertisement, or other distribution of any obscene writing, picture, instrument or drug and any of these intended “for the prevention of conception or procuring abortion.” States passed related “Little Comstock Laws” prohibiting other distribution and manufacturing of contraception and birth control information. In addition to these obscenity laws, medical professionals and moral reformers condemned the “unnatural” and sinful limitation of family size and the “race-suicide” it threatened for the white middle class. Yet people continued to practice family planning by some means, as the average number of children per family declined over the century from 7.04 in 1800 to 3.56 by 1900.
Stanton hinted at her opposition to this ban on discussing birth control. In the early 1880s, while in England visiting her daughter Harriot, Stanton met the free thinker and radical Annie Besant. Besant had been convicted in 1877 of obscenity for publishing Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy detailing methods of contraception. The “Knowlton trial” triggered the founding of the Malthusian League in Britain, building on the ideas of Thomas Malthus regarding overpopulation and now promoting birth control to redress the overpopulation and its related poverty and social problems. Stanton seemed to agree with theory in recounting her meeting with Besant in her diary. “My sense of justice was severely tried by all I heard of the persecutions of Mrs. Besant and Mr. Bradlaugh for their publications on the right and duty of parents to limit population.” “Who can contemplate,” she continued, “the sad condition of multitudes of young children in the Old World whose fate is to be brought up in ignorance and vice—a swarming, seething mass which nobody owns—without seeing the need of free discussion of the philosophical principles that underlie these tangle social problems?” Her view stood in contrast to that of her colleague Matilda Joslyn Gage, who in response to the Knowlton trial, condemned Besant’s endorsement of contraception, while supporting the broader concept that the “law of motherhood should be entirely under woman’s control.”
Feminist endorsement of contraception would not come until the early twentieth century, after Stanton’s time. Socialist and nurse Margaret Sanger coined the term “birth control” in 1916 and established a clinic in Brooklyn, New York to provide information about contraception to working-class women. She was arrested and convicted of violating the New York Comstock Law. On appeal, the court upheld the conviction, but found that physicians and pharmacists were exempted by the law, thus permitting medical professionals to distribute birth control information and contraception for “the purposes of preventing disease.” Sanger’s case thus medicalized birth control, a result that practically ended the ban on contraception, while also removing such procreative decisions solely from women’s autonomy.
The Campaign Against Abortion
In the absence of legal and effective contraception, abortion, and even infanticide, were practiced in the nineteenth century. By 1850, there was a demonstrable increase in abortions facilitated by advertisements for abortion medicines and services, and by the growing use of the practice by married couples as birth control. This triggered moral and legal outrage resulting in a public campaign to criminalize abortion that became a “mass political issue in America” in the late 1860s. The campaign led by the male medical profession overtook feminists’ advocacy of voluntary motherhood and indicted women’s attempts to obtain control of procreative decisions.
Stanton joined in at the periphery of this debate, drawn by its attack on women. She did not engage with the moral question of abortion, but instead utilized the public attention to reframe the issues as one of women’s rights more generally. She gravitated to the related, but more shocking issue of infanticide, expressing empathy for women defendants and criticism of a discriminatory legal system that convicted them. The male-dominated abortion debate provided the toehold for Stanton to get an audience for her radical ideas about women’s legal and social equality, questioning the absence of women in the legal process as well as the gendered sexual moral standard. As she had in other contexts, Stanton revealed her aptitude for capitalizing on the media’s attention to keep her agenda of the broader “woman question” front and center.
Abortion had not always been publicly condemned. At common law in America, abortion was legal prior to quickening, around four months when fetal movement can be felt. Abortion was morally tolerated, though publicly invisible, as an “often-regrettable necessity” for poor, young, unmarried women who had been seduced. Early laws prohibited late-term abortions or targeted medical malpractice and poisonous medicines that harmed women. By mid-century, however, abortion had increased as middle-class, married people used abortion as birth control. Abortion became more visible as newspapers ran barely-disguised advertisements for “French” and “Portuguese” medicines (French meaning contraception and Portuguese code for abortion) and physician services to “restore the natural return of menses.” The prevalence of abortion raised it to a public concern, fueled by nativist fears that immigrants would replace white Americans through the birthrate. The medical profession instigated the efforts for legal reform, supported by sensationalist journalism, which produced new laws that criminalized abortion at any time in every state by the turn of the century. This anti-abortion campaign was infused with anti-woman sentiments, fearful of women’s growing social power, and reasserting patriarchal control and women’s maternal submission.
The lobbying effort to criminalize abortion was spearheaded by the medical profession. In 1859, the American Medical Association (AMA) issued a resolution condemning abortion as an “unwarrantable destruction of human life.” The doctors had scientific, ethical, and professional motivations for leading the charge against abortion. Practically, as doctors professionalized, the new “regulars” of male medical school graduates sought to drive out the competing local practitioners, the untrained “irregulars” of female midwives who had monopolized obstetrical and gynecological care.” Women, though, became the targeted evil. Horatio Storer, one of the first male gynecologists and the leading antiabortion crusader of the AMA wrote that “[t]he true wife” does not seek “undue power in public life, . . . undue control in domestic affairs, . . . or privileges not her own.” The AMA’s 1871 Report on Criminal Abortion denounced the married woman who aborted a pregnancy: “She becomes unmindful of the course marked out for her by Providence, she overlooks the duties imposed on her by the marriage contract. She yields to the pleasures—but shrinks from the pains and responsibilities of maternity . . . .” The AMA campaign succeeded in convincing the public and the politicians that abortion, and women, were a threat to the social order and male authority.
The campaign expressly took on the feminists and their claim of reproductive control. Nineteenth-century feminists did not publicly support abortion, just as they did not endorse legalized birth control. Abortion, like contraception, only increased male sexual license, and threatened physical harm to women from poisonous substances and surgical malpractice. The physicians’’ campaign, however, distorted the women’s rights metaphor of legalized prostitution to claim that they heretically intended that “man’s natural sexual urges were allowed expression in marriage without reproductive consequence.” Dr. H.S. Pomeroy took on Stanton directly in his book, The Ethics of Marriage. “There are lecturers to ‘ladies only’ who profess to be actuated simply by good-will toward their unfortunate sisters, who yet call woman’s highest and holiest privilege by the name of slavery, and a law to protect the family from the first step toward extinct, tyranny.” “There are apostles of woman’s rights,” he continued, who “arouse women to claim privileges now denied them. . . . And there are those who teach that their married sisters may save time and vitality for high and noble pursuits by ‘electing’ how few children shall be born to them.” Storer added that “if each woman were allowed to judge for herself in this matter, her decision upon the abstract question would be too sure to be warped by person considerations, and those of the moment. Woman’s mind is prone to depression, and indeed, to temporary actual derangement, under the stimulus of uterine excitation.” Women were thus mentally incapable of making the procreative decision.
The media supported the physicians’ lobbying campaign, inflamed by sensational journalism. The newspapers published editorials against the “frightfully prevalent” “social evil” of “child murder,” commenting that “the murder of infants is a common thing among American women.” One editorial lamented that “thousands of human beings are thus murdered before they have seen the light of this world.” The papers printed stories recounting the horrific details of women dying from abortions in squalid conditions and exposés on the underground abortion trade in New York City. The remedy, they declared, was in the prohibition and criminalization of abortion. These mainstream papers, however, were complicit in the escalation of the abortion practice as they accepted lucrative abortion advertisements soliciting such business and selling medicinals for abortion. They stopped publishing such ads only when prohibited by law, first by New York state law and then by the federal Comstock anti-obscenity law.
New York, Stanton’s home state, was at the forefront of this debate and evolution of the law of abortion. Early revisions of code in 1828 and 1845 were designed to protect women from malpractice and criminalize a larger practice of behavior, but practically had little effect due to the high prosecutorial burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a woman was “pregnant” and had the “intent thereby to procure a miscarriage.” The Medical Society of the State of New York renewed legal reform lobbying in 1867, to “arrest this flagrant corruption of morality among women, who ought to be and unquestionably are the conservators of morals and of virtue” and prohibit newspaper ads as “highly detrimental to public health and morals.” In 1868, the New York legislature banned advertisements for any “article or medicine for the prevention of conception or procuring of abortion.” Another law in 1869 made abortion at any time, including prior to quickening, illegal and removed the prosecutors’ burden of proving pregnancy, and revisions in 1872 further strengthen its prohibitions and penalties.
In the midst of this public and legislative frenzy over abortion in New York, Stanton began her new woman’s rights newspaper, the Revolution. Starting in January 1868, the paper was drawn into the fray, designed as it was to engage its readers with all topics of the day. The paper published a few submissions opposing abortion and calling for stricter prohibitions. Its financier George Francis Train registered his disgust of abortion, attacking the “French habits, French customs, poisonous drugs, and a false life, combined with the terrible demoralizing effect of the speculum and the lancet—the one poisoning the system, the other destroying chastity as well as maternity,” which failed to “maintain law and virtue” or “respect our manhood." The Revolution also printed articles from feminist voices reacting to the anti-abortion campaign’s demonization of women. These writers, including Matilda Joslyn Gage, were “highly sympathetic to the reasons why women sought abortions” and placed the moral blame on men who refused to control their sexual demands. “This crime,” Gage wrote, of what the papers called “child murder,” lies at the door of the male sex,” wrote Matilda Joslyn Gage. Another writer pointed to the larger class issues and “antagonism” underlying the abortion problem. “When the conditions of society are so false that mothers kill their own children, the trouble lies deeper down than ‘Restellism.’” “Prohibitory laws and the imprisonments of the Madames Restell do not remedy drunkenness or child murder; they do not touch the case.”
Restellism, the epithet for abortion, derived from the most famous practitioner of abortion from 1836 to 1878, Madame Restell (Ann Lohman). Madame Restell flaunted a very public existence, living in a palatial mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City and operating her practice out of her home. In addition, she sold products through the newspapers and mails. Lohman was arrested many times, but convicted finally in 1878 following a sting operation by Anthony Comstock. She committed suicide after she lost her appeals.
Stanton’s male co-editor, Parker Pillsbury, also wrote several articles on abortion in the Revolution, revealing his moral opposition but rejecting criminal regulation. Pillsbury’s moral stance against abortion was consistent with his religious belief of perfectionism and his background as a former Congregationalist minister and zealous abolitionist. In the Revolution, he expressed his abhorrence of the “evil” crime of “foeticide” and “killing the unborn,” and his concern over “the frightful increase” in abortion. He attacked those who encouraged the practice of abortion, “that very evil in all its horrible enormity and extent.” He berated those like Madame Restell who profited from abortion, “those who make it a profession and grow enormously rich in the murderous business; and yet walk unblushingly, and ride most magnificently on Broadway in broad day, and receive both the gratitude and gold of those who employ them.”
In another Revolution editorial entitled Quack Medicines, Pillsbury condemned the mainstream and religious newspapers for supporting Restellism by publishing advertisements for abortion and contraceptive medicines. He criticized them for accepting the “advertisements of professional murderers, who commit infanticide for pay,” simply because the advertising patronage paid “far better than any other.” The Revolution, he said, refused to publish “gross personalities and quack advertisements,” though it did print ads for female physicians for services of an “accoucheuse” (midwife) who devoted “special attention to female disease.” Like the other feminist writers in the Revolution, Pillsbury blamed men for the unwanted pregnancies. His proposed solutions were women’s empowerment and foundling hospitals run by the state that would care for the children given up for adoption.
Stanton weighed in briefly in her editorial Infanticide and Prostitution. The short blurb written during the Revolution’s second month of operation responded to the sensationalist attacks on women in the mainstream press, just as the New York legislature considered a restrictive new abortion law. She began by reprinting an excerpt from the New York Tribune in which that paper concluded that “the murder of infants is a common thing among American women.” The Tribune lamented “child murder,” claiming that “the murder of children, either before or after birth, has become so frightfully prevalent that physicians, who have given careful and intelligent study to the subject, have declared that were it not for immigration the white population of the United States would actually fall off!” Stanton also excerpted an article from the New York Sun on the “social evil statistics” of prostitution, showing how she linked together these issues together as related to male licentiousness.
Stanton dismissed the moral and religious outrage directed against women. “Let us no longer weep, whine and pray over all these abominations.” Instead, she cut to the underlying systemic cause of these social concerns. “We believe the cause of all these abuses lies in the degradation of woman.” The only remedy, she said, was “the education and enfranchisement of woman.” Stanton wrote she was not surprised that women “do everything to avoid maternity” because maternity is presented religiously as a curse, and women “through ignorance of the science of life and health find it so.” The blame instead belonged to men. “Strike the chains from your women; for as long as they are slaves to man’s lust, man will be the slave of his own passions.” Stanton called for the remedy of “enlightened conscientiousness” and “for every thinking man” to change things in his own household by facilitating intentional and healthful procreation. Stanton, however, wrote nothing further on the issue. Instead, she became obsessed with the notorious trial of Hester Vaughn, sentenced to death for infanticide. The Vaughn case engaged these questions about the sexual double standard and women’s reproductive control while providing the additional opportunity for Stanton to challenge the greater systemic problems of a legal system that professed to dispense justice for women without women’s participation in the process.
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
The Center on Applied Feminism at the University of Baltimore School of Law seeks paper proposals for the Twelfth Feminist Legal Theory Conference. We hope you will join us for this exciting conference on April 2 and 3, 2020. The theme is Privacy. As always, the conference focuses on the intersection of gender and race, class, gender identity, ability, and other personal identities. We are excited that Dr. Leana Wen, President and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, has agreed to serve as our Keynote.
We are at a critical time for a broad range of privacy issues. State level abortion bans have put a spotlight on the importance of decisional privacy to women’s equality. Across America, advocates are fighting for reproductive justice and strategizing to preserve long-settled rights. At the same time, our informational privacy is increasingly precarious. Data brokers, app designers, and social media platforms are gathering and selling personal data in highly gendered ways. As a result, women have been targeted with predatory marketing, intentionally excluded from job opportunities, and subject to menstrual tracking by marketers and employers. In online spaces, women have been objectified, cyber-stalked, and subject to revenge porn. With regard to physical privacy, the structural intersectionality of over-policing and mass incarceration impacts women of color and other women. And while a man’s home may be his castle, low-income women are expected to allow government agents into their homes – and to turn over reams of other personal information -- as a condition of receiving state support. In addition, families of all forms are navigating the space of constitutionally-protected family privacy in relation to legal parentage, marriage and cohabitation, and child welfare systems.
We seek submissions of papers that focus on the topic of Applied Feminism and Privacy. We will interrogate multiple aspects of privacy, including its physical, decisional, informational, and family dimensions. This conference aims to explore the following questions: Is privacy dead, as often claimed? If so, what does this mean for women? How can privacy reinforce or challenge existing inequalities? How has feminist legal theory wrestled with privacy and what lessons can we draw from past debates? What advocacy will best advance privacy protections that benefit women? How do emerging forms of surveillance impact women? Can intersectional perspectives on privacy lead to greater justice? Who defines the “right to privacy” and what do those understandings mean for women? How is privacy related to other values, such as autonomy, anti-subordination, vulnerability, justice, and equality?
We welcome proposals that consider these questions and any other related questions from a variety of substantive disciplines and perspectives. The Center’s conference will serve as a forum for scholars, practitioners, and activists to share ideas about applied feminism, focusing on connections between theory and practice to effectuate social change. The conference will be open to the public.
To submit a paper proposal, by Friday, November 1, 2019, please complete this form and include your 500 word abstract: https://forms.gle/k4EPNLaYmEvo4KHUA
We will notify presenters of selected papers by early December. About half the presenter slots will be reserved for authors who commit to publishing in the annual symposium volume of the University of Baltimore Law Review, our co-sponsor for this conference. Thus, the form requests that you indicate if you are interested in publishing in the University of Baltimore Law Review's symposium issue. Authors who are interested in publishing in the Law Review will be strongly considered for publication. The decision about publication rests solely with the Law Review editors, who will communicate separately with the authors. For all presenters, working drafts of papers will be due no later than March 20, 2020. Presenters are responsible for their own travel costs; the conference will provide a discounted hotel rate as well as meals.
We look forward to your submissions. If you have further questions, please contact Prof. Margaret Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information about the conference, please visit law.ubalt.edu/caf.
Rivka Weill, Women’s and LGBTQ Social Movements and Constitutional Change -- On Geoffrey Stone’s Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century, Jerusalem Review of Legal Studies, Forthcoming
This essay reviews Geoffrey Stone’s “Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century.” Part I offers a synopsis of the treatise to make it accessible to the general public. Stone’s 600 pages book reviews the regulation of sex in the ancient cultures of the Greeks, Romans, and ancient Hebrews. It later discusses the evolution of the regulation of sex in Christianity and the English common law. Stone then focuses specifically on US regulation of obscenity, contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage to portray a story of progress with a warning that much of this progress depends on the composition of the Supreme Court. Part II reveals the contribution of Sex and the Constitution to the literature with respect to the ways social movements may bring about constitutional change outside the formal process defined in the Constitution for amendment. Part III offers some critical reflections on the book. In particular, it argues that Stone’s book implicitly asserts great similarities between women’s and LGBTQ movements’ struggles for the recognition that their rights demand constitutional protection. Yet, Stone should have acknowledged more forcefully the major differences between the two struggles. They differ substantially in their opening positions, their agendas for social change, the length of the struggles, the pace of change, and their successes. Some possible explanations are offered for the rather meteoric success of the LGBTQ members in transforming law and society within a short period in comparison to the rather slow pace of change for women. Moreover, while women’s successes assisted the gay rights revolution, some of the advancement in gay rights came at the expense of advancement of women.
Friday, June 14, 2019
We need more ideas like the one Senator Kamala Harris of California proposed last week to stop abortion laws from going into effect unless the federal government agrees they comply with Roe v. Wade.
This idea, known as preclearance, is widely considered the single most effective civil rights tool in American history, because it blocks bad policies before they can take root and spread harm across generations.
Ms. Harris’s proposal focuses on laws that harm women. But the concept ought to be extended to racial disadvantage. Every presidential candidate should offer similar proposals in areas like policing, housing, education and transportation. It’s the best way to stop discrimination.
Ms. Harris modeled her idea on a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which for decades allowed the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington to prevent harmful voting laws in places with chronic discrimination. Preclearance was created to combat the pernicious methods Southern states used to stop black people from voting after the 15th Amendment prohibited the states from doing so outright.
Thursday, June 13, 2019
When an abortion law makes headlines in 2019, it’s usually as a ban.
Aggressive abortion restrictions have passed in numerous states in recent months, with some banning the procedure at six weeks or even earlier.
But this week, Maine Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a bill that will actually expand abortion access in the state by allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants, not just doctors, to perform the procedure. As clinics in other states are at risk of closing, the Maine law will increase the number of clinics able to perform abortions.
Maine’s law is part of a bigger trend, as legislators and advocates in blue states back legislation to lift abortion restrictions. These laws are still outnumbered by anti-abortion bills, but they’re becoming more and more common — about a quarter of the provisions to expand abortion access since 2011 have passed in the past two weeks alone, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.
The states include ME, NY, IL, VT, and NV.
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Mary Ziegler, The End of the Rape and Incest Exception, NYT
All of a sudden, abortion opponents have abandoned rape and incest exceptions to abortion bans.
Louisiana became the latest state to do so last month, following Ohio, Mississippi and, most notoriously, Alabama. That same month, younger abortion foes in groups like Students for Life of America fired off a letter asking the Republican Party to stop supporting exceptions that before this year had long been standard components of anti-abortion legislation.
Why the sudden shift on rape and incest, and what does it mean? Fights about rape and incest exceptions expose deeply different ideas about the guilt and trustworthiness of women — and about how much popular opinion should dictate abortion politics.
These exceptions weren’t always viewed as standard. The American Law Institute, an expert body, created the rape and incest exceptions in 1959 when proposing a model abortion law. Anti-abortion scholars immediately denounced the idea. Even if women were victims of sexual assault, these commentators argued, these unborn children were innocent.
And, they argued, maybe the women were not really victims at all. A lawyer named Eugene Quay wrote an influential articledeclaring that as a scientific matter, it was nearly impossible for women to become pregnant as a result of rape — a myth whose influence is still being felt — to make the point that many women would simply lie about sexual assault to get an abortion when they had consented to sex all along.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) on Monday signed into law an expansive abortion rights bill that seeks to preserve a woman’s right to the procedure.
"Like many Vermonters, I have consistently supported a woman’s right to choose," Scott said in a statement about his decision to sign the measure.
"This legislation affirms what is already allowable in Vermont – protecting reproductive rights and ensuring those decisions remain between a woman and her health care provider," he added.
Under the measure, Vermont is required to recognize the “fundamental right of every individual to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization” as well as the “fundamental right of every individual who becomes pregnant to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion.”
The bill states that, upon its passage, Vermont’s government would not be able to "deny or interfere with an individual’s fundamental rights to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization or to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to obtain an abortion."
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Yvonne Lindgren, Trump's Angry White Women: Motherhood, Nationalism, and Abortion, Hofstra L. Rev. (forthcoming)
A majority of white women — fifty-two percent — voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. White working-class women supported Trump in even greater numbers: sixty-one percent of white women without college degrees voted for Trump. This result seems remarkable considering Trump’s derogatory statements about women and his staunch opposition to legal access to abortion. Why did white women, especially those most likely to need access to reproductive healthcare—poor and working-class women — vote heavily against their own interests to embrace a candidate who called for punishing women who access abortion? Much recent commentary has considered this question and drawn various conclusions, including that white women lack information and live with close ties to conservative white men who they look to when casting their vote. This Article brings a new perspective to this question by examining the ways that motherhood is mobilized in movements for nationalism. Specifically, it investigates how Donald Trump’s presidential campaign drew upon a familiar narrative forged by the family-values movement of the mid-1970’s that linked opposition to abortion with protection of motherhood, family, and nation. The pro-life message that conflates opposing abortion with protecting motherhood and American culture and values continues to animate opposition to abortion: Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan had first been used in the Reagan-Bush campaign along with their promise to “take back our country.” Trump’s campaign effectively deployed the same message that promised to defend motherhood, traditional family, and nation to mobilize white female voters. Drawing upon social science research and the historical record, this Article seeks to uncover the origins of how opposition to abortion was transformed into a powerful expression of white women’s disaffection and nationalism.
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
The Supreme Court decided Box v. Planned Parenthood without full briefing or oral argument and issuing a per curiam opinion. It upheld Indiana's fetal remains law, but denied cert on the second question regarding the law prohibiting abortion for fetal diagnosis or disability. Justice Sotomayor would have denied cert on both questions. Justice Ginsburg dissented, and would have applied a higher standard of scrutiny because the case implicated “the right of [a] woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State." Justice Thomas dissented from the denial of cert on the second question. Ginsburg criticized Thomas' opinion, saying it "displays more heat than light."
The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to a compromise on Indiana’s contested abortion law, an outcome that revealed its openness to state restrictions on the procedure but also apparently favored a cautious and incremental path in confronting one of the nation’s enduring controversies.
On one hand, the court upheld a part of Indiana’s 2016 law that places new restrictions on the disposal of fetal remains after an abortion. It reversed a decision by a lower court without the customary briefing and oral arguments.
But the court said it would not revive another part of the law, which would have prohibited abortions if the woman chose the procedure because of a diagnosis or “potential diagnosis” of Down syndrome or “any other disability,” or because of the fetus’s gender or race.
The Indiana case was closely watched because it was the first time the conservative court, reinforced by the addition of President Trump’s two nominees, had the opportunity to take a case with consequences for the constitutional protections found in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Tuesday’s decision in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentuckyheld no consequences for either Roe or Casey. But it appeared to be a commencement of the new court’s consideration of abortion rights, and many cases are waiting in the wings.***
The unsigned opinion of the court, just three pages long, was matter-of-fact and devoid of broad holdings. Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have let the lower court’s rejections stay in place; fellow liberals Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan were silent.
But there were signs of tension. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a 20-page statement linking abortion to the eugenics policies popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He added in a footnote that Ginsburg’s objection to the fetal-remains portion of the law “makes little sense.”
She responded by correcting his use of the word “mother” throughout his opinion. “A woman who exercises her constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy is not a ‘mother,’ ” she wrote.
The portion of the Indiana law the court allowed to go into effect mandates that the “remains” of an abortion or miscarriage be buried or cremated, as required of other human remains.
See Mary Ziegler, What Clarence Thomas Gets Wrong About Abortion and Eugenics
This is a dark history, but it is not the tidy, simple one that Thomas describes. Many population controllers actually opposed legal abortion or viewed it as irrelevant. They shared the worries of their eugenicist forbears that giving women a choice would not do enough to reduce demographic growth.
More important, many in the population control movement had no interest in eugenics. Cold warriors hoped that curbing demographic growth would prevent developing countries from turning to communism. Environmentalists believed that population control could conserve scarce environmental resources. And feminists believed that population control could facilitate the liberation of women.
The converse was also true: Unlike the synergy of belief conveyed by Thomas, some abortion rights supporters had no use for population rhetoric, viewing it as unethical and counterproductive, regardless of the political benefits. Contrary to what Thomas suggests, these voices grew louder after Roe, when feminists took on more influential roles in major abortion rights organizations. These groups understood that population arguments could smack of coercion — antithetical to their beliefs about choice and freedom — and alienate people of color both in the United States and in developing countries. And feminists increasingly argued that women had a right to abortion regardless of its policy consequences.
Illinois passed an expansive reproductive rights bill on Friday further protecting the right to an abortion as GOP-controlled state legislatures pass abortion bans throughout the country.
The state Senate passed the bill 34-20 down party lines after the House passed it 64-50 on May 28. The progressive bill is meant to strengthen abortion rights in Illinois and codify the state’s current practices in case the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturns the landmark 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade, which guarantees a person’s right to a safe and legal abortion.
“The Act sets forth the fundamental rights of individuals to make autonomous decisions about one’s own reproductive health, including the fundamental right to use or refuse reproductive health care,” the bill reads. It also restricts “the ability of the State to deny, interfere with, or discriminate against these fundamental rights.”
The bill’s passage repeals the 1975 Illinois Abortion Law and replaces it with the Reproductive Health Act, removing decades-old measures requiring spousal consent, waiting periods and criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions, among other restrictions. Courts had already blocked the criminal penalties measure before the new legislation repealed it.
The legislation also has clarifying language that treats abortion as health care.
A bill that establishes a “fundamental right” for women to get an abortion in Illinois cleared the state Senate late Friday night, sending the sweeping measure to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who already has signaled his support.
As the clock approached midnight Friday, the Senate voted 34-20 in favor of the abortion legislation, which comes amid an increased sense of urgency among advocates looking to protect abortion access as a series of states have passed laws essentially banning the practice.
***Illinois isn’t alone in its approach, as lawmakers in red and blue states alike begin to envision a world without Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that a woman has a constitutional right to choose whether to bear a child.
In Vermont, both houses of the state’s General Assembly endorsed a measure earlier this month that recognizes reproductive choice as a “fundamental right.” The state’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, has pledged not to veto the measure. Last week, lawmakers in Maine advanced legislation expanding abortion providers. Meanwhile, the majority-female Nevada Assembly approved a bill doing away with the requirement that doctors inform women of the “emotional implications” of an abortion.
Legislation is pending in additional Democratic-controlled states, such as Massachusetts, where the ROE Act would authorize abortion after 24 weeks in certain situations. Elsewhere, Democratic governors are promising to use their veto power to block Republican-led efforts to limit access to the procedure.
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Bucking the antiabortion political trends in several other states, the Nevada state Assembly approved a pro-choice bill on Tuesday to remove criminal penalties for people who terminate a pregnancy without consulting a physician.
The Trust Nevada Women Act, which passed on a 27-13 vote, would also decriminalize other abortion-related actions, such as selling miscarriage-inducing medications. It would remove requirements that doctors tell pregnant people about the “emotional implications” of an abortion.***
Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Utah, Louisiana and Missouri are among the other states that have approved new laws or are considering ones that significantly limit legal abortions.
State lawmakers on Thursday [March 7, 2019] approved legislation to protect the legality of abortion in Rhode Island, no matter what an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court might do to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
In a major victory for abortion-rights activists, the Rhode Island House of Representatives approved the legislation by a 44-to-30 vote, over the strenuous objections of a host of antiabortion lawmakers and the Roman Catholic Church in the most Catholic state in the nation.
The legislation now goes to the state Senate, where its fate is uncertain and where a similar measure died in 1993 after clearing the House. That was a very different era, when Bill Clinton was president and there was nowhere near the current level of concern among advocates about the erosion of abortion rights
Friday, May 17, 2019
Study Examining Whether Women Judges are More Likely than Men Judges to Affirm Reproductive Health Rights
Michele Goodwin & Mariah Lindsay, American Courts and the Sex Blind Spot: Legitimacy and Representation, 87 Fordham L. Rev. (2019)
We argue the legacy of explicit sex bias and discrimination with relation to political rights and social status begins within government, hewn from state and federal lawmaking. As such, male lawmakers and judges conscribed a woman’s role to her home and defined the scope of her independence in the local community and broader society. Politically and legally, women were legal appendages to men—objects of male power (vis-à-vis their husbands and fathers). In law, women’s roles included sexual chattel to their spouses, care of the home, and producing offspring. Accordingly, women were essential in the home, as law would have it, but unnecessary, and even harmful and sabotaging, to a participatory democracy.
Building from two years of empirical research and examining each federal appeals court’s record on abortion and each judge’s vote on a particular case, this project studies whether women are more likely than their male counterparts to affirm reproductive health rights. We examined 302 cases across each federal appellate circuit, including the District of Columbia and the Federal Circuit. Our findings have both normative and sociological implications. This project tells an important story about the composition of the federal appellate judiciary and the slow climb for women, including women of color, within the elite branches of the courts. This is a story expressed in numbers and it reflects the historical marginalization of women within the law and the problem of homogeneity in the courts.
Thursday, May 16, 2019
Marcia Coyle, The Justices Had 5 Votes to Overturn Roe in 1992. Why That Didn't Happen, Natl L. J.
In 1992, anti-abortion groups thought they had a winning case in defense of a restrictive Pennsylvania state law. There appeared to be five votes on the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the landmark decision Roe v. Wade, but that did not happen. As Alabama and Missouri lawmakers adopt strict anti-abortion laws, and predict successful outcomes at the high court, history provides some lessons: Never bet on what occurs behind the high court’s closed conference doors.
After oral arguments in Planned Parenthood of S.E. Pennsylvania v. Casey, Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens believed the 1973 ruling in Roe was doomed.
Stevens, writing in his newly published book, “The Making of a Justice,” said the justices, except for him and Blackmun, agreed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit correctly upheld all of the challenged abortion restrictions—save for one, which required a married woman to certify she had notified her husband of her intent to have an abortion.
The Casey case, which affirmed Roe’s central holding, is getting renewed attention today for the standard the decision set for determining whether a state law posed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to get an abortion. The justices are weighing several abortion-related challenges, and separately, new laws passed by Alabama and other Republican-led states could tee up direct challenges to Roe in the coming months.
Several new books, including the one from Stevens, offer a glimpse behind the scenes at how the Pennsylvania case was resolved and why caution is warranted in predicting the outcome in the most contentious cases.
“Harry and I both assumed that the result [in Casey] would be explained in an opinion overruling Roe v. Wade,” Stevens wrote in his autobiography, published this week.
In fact, at the justices’ private conference, Chief Justice William Rehnquist counted five votes to reverse Roe, and he assigned the court’s opinion to himself, according to journalist Evan Thomas in his new book, “First,” a biography of Sandra Day O’Connor.
States Quickly Passing Restrictive Abortion Bans to Challenge Supreme Court Precedent Recognizing Women's Right of Bodily Autonomy
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a controversial bill that bans nearly all abortions into law Wednesday evening.
It's considered the most restrictive abortion law in the United States. The law makes it a crime for doctors to perform abortions at any stage of a pregnancy, unless a woman's life is threatened or there is a lethal fetal anomaly.
Under the new law, doctors in the state face felony jail time up to 99 years if convicted. But a woman would not be held criminally liable for having an abortion.
The law does not take effect for several months.
Late Tuesday night, Alabama legislators passed a bill that would outlaw abortion at any stage in a woman’s pregnancy. They’re in good company: Earlier in May, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a law making abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or roughly six weeks after conception. Ohio, Mississippi, and Kentucky have all passed similar bills this year.
The state legislators who are passing these bills know they will be challenged in court. They also know they will probably lose. But their sights appear to be set higher than their state jurisdictions: With a solidly conservative majority on the Supreme Court, anti-abortion advocates are eager to seed the challenge that could one day take down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 opinion that legalized abortion up to the point of fetal viability. At the very least, they hope the Supreme Court will undercut Roe and subsequent decisions that reaffirmed abortion rights, the idea being that each legal challenge makes it a little harder to obtain an abortion in the United States.
Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio stopped short of outright bans, instead passing so-called heartbeat bills that effectively prohibit abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, when doctors can usually start detecting a fetal heartbeat. Utah and Arkansas voted to limit the procedure to the middle of the second trimester.
Most other states follow the standard set by the Supreme Court’s Roe decision in 1973, which says abortion is legal until the fetus reaches viability, usually at 24 to 28 weeks.
The latest bans are not yet in effect (Kentucky’s was blocked by a judge), and all are expected to face lengthy court battles — indeed, their proponents are hoping they will reach the Supreme Court.
A new law in Alabama bans abortion from conception, except when necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the mother. and even then, access to the procedure would be hard to come by.
The legislation joins a string of measures in pro-life states that are clearly unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade. But the bills' backers are betting the U.S. Supreme Court's new five-justice conservative majority is ready to reverse the 46-year-old precedent.
Under Supreme Court precedent, states can't unduly burden—let alone ban—abortion before fetal viability (generally at 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy.)
In Ohio, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have filed suit to block that state's six-week abortion ban, which is set to go into effect in July.
But with Georgia's governor signing into law another six-week ban last week, abortion opponents are confident they have the high court on their side.
The court last affirmed abortion rights in 2016. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative, replaced swing Justice Anthony Kennedy, which changed the calculus, according to Professor Caroline Mala Corbin of the University of Miami School of Law.
"The newly configured Supreme Court has given hope to many abortion opponents that they will finally have their way and the right to abortion will be eliminated as a constitutional right," Corbin told FOX 5 NY.
Friday, May 3, 2019
The six-week abortion ban known as the "heartbeat bill" is now law in Ohio. That makes Ohio the sixth state in the nation to attempt to outlaw abortions at the point a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill Thursday afternoon, just one day after it passed the Republican-led General Assembly. The law is slated to take effect in 90 days, unless blocked by a federal judge.
Now known as the "Human Rights Protection Act," SB 23 outlaws abortions as early as five or six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they're pregnant. It is one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.
The bill does include an exception to save the life of the woman, but no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.***
DeWine's signature will set off a lengthy legal fight. The ACLU of Ohio announced it will sue to stop the law, which the group says "virtually bans all abortion care."
With the stroke of a pen by Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio became the third state this year to pass a "heartbeat" bill banning abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
The ban takes effect after the detection of a fetal heartbeat at a point before many women are even aware they are pregnant.
Kentucky and Mississippi have adopted similar laws, while a Georgia bill awaits only the expected signature by Gov. Brian Kemp by May 12. The Mississippi law takes effect in July.
Meanwhile, "heartbeat" bills have passed one chamber of the legislature in Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee and have been introduced in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, South Carolina and West Virginia.
The bills hit at the nexus of the abortion debate, and frame the act in stark,emotional terms, with proponents arguing that preserving life outweighs arguments against government interference in personal, medical decisions.
For prior scholarship on this bill, see Marc Spindelman, On the Constitutionality of Ohio's Proposed "Heartbeat Bill", 74 Ohio State L.J. 149 (2012)
Thursday, May 2, 2019
A House Judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday held the first congressional hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 36 years as supporters push for ratification.
ERA advocates want a time requirement to be stripped from the amendment’s language. Congress passed the ERA in 1972, but it failed to earn the backing of enough state legislatures to be ratified by a 1982 deadline.
The majority of those testifying Tuesday before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties argued the deadline was arbitrary and should be removed.
The panel heard testimony from a pair of female Democratic lawmakers backing legislation that would add language to the Constitution stating everyone is equal under the law.
Other witnesses included actress and advocate Patricia Arquette, as well as legal experts and a state senator involved in getting the ERA ratified in Nevada.
Both Nevada and Illinois have ratified the amendment in recent years. Ratification failed by one vote in Virginia earlier this year.***
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) also introduced a measure for a new ERA, but she and Speier have said it's a “fall back” in the case Speier’s measure falls short.
Video, ERA Hearing on CSPAN
When women’s rights activists gathered in Washington on Tuesday for the first congressional hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 36 years, they seemed to encounter many of the same decades-old strategies that have been used to derail it. Chief among them was the idea that the proposed constitutional amendment, which would enshrine equal protections for women in law, would trigger an unfettered expansion of abortion rights on the state and federal level—an argument some ERA supporters say is intended to sow division.