Our Bodies, Our Crimes: the Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America by Jeanne Flavin (2008)
To start with, read this Op-Ed the author wrote and is the text in GoodReads (click above link)
The Real Issue behind the Abortion DebateAn op-ed by Jeanne Flavin in the “San Francisco Chronicle”
2009 “Choice” Outstanding Academic Title
The intense policing of women s reproductive capacity places women’s health and human rights in great peril. Poor women are pressured to undergo sterilization. Women addicted to illicit drugs risk arrest for carrying their pregnancies to term. Courts, child welfare, and law enforcement agencies fail to recognize the efforts of battered and incarcerated women to care for their children. Pregnant inmates are subject to inhumane practices such as shackling during labor and poor prenatal care. And decades after “Roe,” the criminalization of certain procedures and regulation of abortion providers still obstruct women s access to safe and private abortions.
In this important work, Jeanne Flavin looks beyond abortion to document how the law and the criminal justice system police women s rights to conceive, to be pregnant, and to raise their children. Through vivid and disturbing case studies, Flavin shows how the state seeks to establish what a good woman and fit mother should look like and whose reproduction is valued. With a stirring conclusion that calls for broad-based measures that strengthen women s economic position, choice-making, autonomy, sexual freedom, and health care, Our Bodies, Our Crimes is a battle cry for all women in their fight to be fully recognized as human beings. At its heart, this book is about the right of a woman to be a healthy and valued member of society independent of how or whether she reproduces.”
Liars, Crooks, and Thieves — adulterers, hypocrites, self-righteous zealots, narcissists with God complexes — also known as politicians (yeah yeah, not all politicians)
I have been doing a lot of reading on Supreme Court cases and some history too, especially related to politics. It is very weird to have lived my life so far and yet have been so unaware of some of the really bad behavior of politicians and how America has lost sight of ideals a long time ago. I guess I should have known better given that I became much more politically aware growing up in the sixties, the Vietnam War, truth out about the Gulf of Tonkin now, just like the truth is and has been out about W et al having any justifiable reason to go to war in Iraq — for Halliburton profits, and oil for corporations; the Iraqi oil was nationalized, not private, and one of the conditions the freaking oil companies put in that the Iraqi government (post Saddam) was a MANDATE to privatize their oil!!!! What fucking nerve! Pure theft by global corporations from Iraqis.
And now it has been confirmed (really, decades later, someone is surprised that they covered it up?!) that the shootings at Kent State were NOT triggered by kids throwing rocks or some such provocation. No, the National Guardsmen were audibly ordered to prepare to fire and swung in unison and turned and fired on the unarmed peaceful anti-war protesters.
Seriously, how can anyway imagine that it happened any other random way? Reminds me of the psychological tests they have done where someone is told to push a button that will cause another pain (for some spurious reason) and some subjects will do so, and in fact, will keep doing so even when they are made aware that the pain level is being increased higher and higher. They can hear screams of pain from another room but do not see the person they are harming. Very few people simply refused to do it at all. So it is not really that hard to imagine our own youth turning on each other, the Guardsmen being patriots and seeing the protesters as a threat, and the protesters seeing the heavy boot of tyranny forcing them to die for no damn good reason at all being enforced by their own government. And by extension, having what one might have believed to be perfectly normal and sane neighbors who turn on you in an instant and report you for whatever the “moral majority” and “patriotic” extremists decide is the crime du jour. Like women wearing pants to work in North Carolina.
The Point of the Digression
When listening to an excellent book on LBJ and the wheeling and dealing it took to get the Civil Rights Act passed (The Fierce Urgency of Now), there was the often told but with varied interpretations of reality, how SEX came to be added to section 7, as well as why the EEOC was neutered from being effective — not to mention they put f-fing Clarence Thomas in charge. So because this section — meant to help women be treated equally when applying for jobs — made sex discrimination unconstitutional, there were unintended consequences. Prior to this, women’s prisons had women guards. This ruling was WRONGLY interpreted (have to look that court case sequence up) to mean that male guards HAD to be accepted as prison guards at women only facilities. Despite the fact that hiring by sex was NOT discriminatory when the qualifications for the job required something specific by gender: for example a wet nurse, or big breasts at Hooters, surrogate mothers.
So the mystery behind these terrible stories I have heard of about women in prison getting raped. I could not figure out how that would have come about. How is that for bitter fruit. And it isn’t just rape, these men get to patrol and watch women showering, changing clothes, going to the bathroom, etc. so this is even more horrific. I would not be a bit surprised that they are taking photos and coercing other things from prisoners who have little or now choices. It is not clear to me if they have women guards at men’s prisons but I think either way this is STUPID not discriminatory action to have women for women only, and men for men only. Yes, sure, the men get raped too, probably not by women guards, and vulnerable non cisgender people have their own issues. But with all the guards and all the prisons, why couldn’t they have their own prison? Plus are there really so many heinous crimes committed by, say, a transperson? I am guessing they are 99% victims. Certainly women being placed under the tyranny of a male guard is a recipe for criminal conduct by the system. For pity’s sake, women walking free down the street are vulnerable, even in their homes, even by their boyfriends or their father or other relatives! But it is especially horrific that immediate action has not been taken to change the dehumanizing degradation of sexual terrorism under the color of authority is permitted even one more day! Including the officer who was sentenced recently for targeting black women for traffic pull overs and the forcing them to have sex.
This book is a very carefully researched and well presented collection of information about the actual reality of women and the institutionalized and concerted legal actions dedicated towards the control of women’s sexuality. The examples will probably make you weep since things only seem to be getting worse, and after you read this book you will have a new and better understanding of just how bad that can be. Definitely a must read to be informed, activist if possible, and warned.
Our Bodies, Our Crimes is mainly about state-imposed restrictions on women’s reproduction. As a single woman who has never wanted to conceive, bear, or raise a child of her own, I am acutely aware that reproductive justice demands the freedom not to reproduce. Women who choose not to procreate or [not] to marry pose a serious threat to patriarchy and conventional social structures. At its heart, then, this book is about the freedom to be a healthy woman and a valued member of society independent of one’s reproductive contribution or perceived lack thereof.”
I like the way she organized the book, in sections that are sequential: Beginning, Breeding, Bearing, Mothering. The chapters include The Right to Procreate which gets at a lesser known reality that thanks to eugenics, many women and some men were forced to be sterilized, often sterilized without knowledge or consent if they were deemed “unfit” and by the racist standards of the day, anyone not white middle class or above, especially vulnerable people by race or perceived mental incompetence — even epilepsy back in the day.
The obvious issue that has blown up again peculiarly and without justification (but madness of theism has no reason) is termination. Especially wretched are the legislatures who vote illegal statutes into force that are purported to be for the good of women when the actual purpose is to force women to bear children they didn’t want in the first place, either by contraceptive failure or rape or incest, by TRAP laws, screeching zealots on picket lines, domestic terrorism of killing doctors and bombing clinics, and so much more. For example the law the federals tried to pass that allowed rape victims to have an abortion ONLY IF they reported the rape to the police within 24-hours or some such ridiculousness with no relationship to reality. Fortunately, even the Republican women stood up and said no, you have gone too far.
Women have actually be jailed for having miscarriages, or rather I should say, imprisoned for at least 10 years in one case, where she fell down the stairs, went to the hospital for help, miscarried, and the hospital reported her to the police. The law that was passed that some of these cases are being brought to trial under were, theoretically (or if you are cynical like me, deliberately slanted), to allow the conviction of, say, a drunk driver who harms a pregnant woman and causes her to miscarry, as a manslaughter case. Though I am pretty sure there has never been a case of this nature. I don’t think spouses who have caused a miscarriage by abusing their wives have been convicted of manslaughter either, but I don’t have access to case law to check if that is true or how many cases there have been and subsequent verdicts, if any.
These issues are so wide ranging and touch pretty much every action of a woman for her whole life that it is somewhat terrifying how easily women can be made to be regarded as little more than walking wombs and incubators. Personhood laws grant more rights to a clump of cells that may well spontaneously abort at some point, than the actual living breathing human woman.
Much of the best [not that it is a good thing, but because it is so informative] material in the book was about the intersection of criminalizing reproduction in one way or another. And they are all entangled into such a snarl that it seems no one knife can cut the knot. And it just gets worse. Today (3/29/16) Trump once again made a stupid statement that for a rare occasion he walked back because he pissed off the forced birthers and the pro-choice women. He said that if abortion were made illegal, which is what he advocates (though calls it a “ban” I guess because that sounds less severe than criminalization), then women who have abortions must be punished! Did not say anything about the circumstances that might have driven them to have an illegal abortion even though we know women did by the millions or so, whenever possible, back pre-Roe. Once again, there is a failure to recognize the fundamental FACT THAT ABORTION WILL ALWAYS EXIST, it always has and it always will. By criminalizing it, you just kill women, and no, despite what the clinic bombers and death threat making religious nuts think, women do not deserve to die because they are desperate not to be pregnant.
In some instances, it is striking the lengths that some prison officials and legislators have gone to in order to resist even acknowledging that a problem exists. The Detroit News conducted a five-month investigation that exposed how Michigan lawmakers and prison official “stymied investigations of sexual abuse in women’s prisons, stifled inmate complaints and stripped away the rights of assaulted prisoners to sue for damages. Prosecuting correctional officers was a low priority, and one often left to the office of the attorney general — the same agency that defended the corrections department against lawsuits filed by the victimized women. All but 3 of the 31 prison employees convicted of sex-related crimes in the state were convicted of misdemeanors; nobody had been charged under a state law that made sex between guards and inmates a felony punishable by 15 years incarceration.
Legislators stripped away inmates’ right to sue under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Right Act in 1999 [another one of those Orwellian titles it would seem, though really don’t understand how they can strip away a constitutional right to redress, but hey, they’re just sluts and whores, right?]. After restricting the office’s power and cutting its staff, the Legislature finally closed down the office of the Legislative Corrections Ombudsman, which was responsible for investigating inmate complaints. They also changed the law so that unless a woman could prove she had SUSTAINED LASTING PHYSICAL INJURY, she could not obtain damages, even if she had been repeatedly groped, humiliated, or raped. The sexual abuse and rapes had been documented in investigations by the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Human Rights Watch, and even the United Nations. In response to increased public scrutiny, the state imposed restrictions designed to limit the media and the public’s access to inmates and facilities. (p. 132)
Some of these issues were challenged and in 2007 they were restored the right to sue and male guards no longer patrol “where women inmates shower, sleep, or use the bathroom.”
So, basically, say you get raped by your uncle, and you have an illegal abortion, and get caught, possibly because you have to go to the hospital because of the covert unsafe circumstances and adverse events, the hospital reports you to the police and they have already established the medical certainty of your physical situation, which is then used as evidence against you. [5th Amendment notwithstanding, or illegal search and seizure, etc.] If Trump hadn’t walked back his position to say no, I didn’t mean women should be sent to prison — the doctors should be, that is not what he really meant. He clearly said the women who would have an illegal abortion MUST BE PUNISHED.
Already today, woman are castigated by others if they are perceived as pregnant and seen smoking in public, or drinking alcohol , as one or more experiments have established. Italian women and French women have been drinking and reproducing for generations without the children having fetal alcohol syndrome, so it isn’t possible that ALL women who have a drink will have a negative impact or we’d be a country full of seriously brain damaged people, oh wait, maybe that explains some of these nuts. Anyway, we have cases today where a pregnant woman who goes to a hospital for help is required to give a urine sample and then if that shows traces of drugs, she is reported to police, and charged with child abuse of some kind and prosecuted — even if the baby comes out 100% healthy. She is an evil criminal for doing drugs while pregnant. Pretty soon EVERYTHING a woman does will be criminal if she does not comply with religious mandates, spurious laws, social assessments of what is “acceptable” behavior for a walking womb. And of course, you get to have the baby in shackles, literally, and they take the baby away, because you are a proven BAD MOTHER who deserves to rot in jail without your kid, who is often placed in foster care rather than with other family members, making it impossible for the imprisoned woman to have a relationship with the child.
And while they are in prison, their gynecological care is less than optimal, not just for pregnant women, but all women. In fact, all women’s care in prisons sounds pretty unbelievably bad. I don’t recall if I read it in this book, or saw it elsewhere, but there has been some mentions on the news about the allotment system of tampons in women’s prisons being 3 per day (or less) irrespective of whether that is adequate, and an assumption only 3 days supplies are needed. And if you get blood on your sheets, then you just have to sleep in them anyway. Plus the quality of the supplies, pads or tampons, is low grade and only semi-effective. There were reports about the dehumanizing guards forcing women to perform sex in order to be given tampons and so on. It reminded me of the story I read about the Nazi’s treatment of women in Ravensbruck where the guards forced the prisoners just have to the blood run free down their legs. Then beat them for it.
The walking womb issue is covered in her “Innocent Preborn Vicims” that covers things like the drug using pregnant woman who, instead of being given treatment or mandating treatment she cannot afford, is convicted of being a bad mother, essentially, as if her life was not her own the instant that sperm met the egg. Fetal protectionism she calls it. It is extremism to the nth degree. She cites the case of a woman who wanted to have a vaginal birth after having had a cesarean (shoot lost the page reference) but become dehydrated, went to the hospital where the doctor refused her fluids unless she agreed to a cesarean, at which point she and her husband slipped out to finish the birth at home as they wished. Only before that happened, the police came to their door, took the woman to the hospital and forced her to have a cesarean. When women are deemed incapable of making their reproductive choices at all, it is no surprise that EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER’S think they know what’s best, from the doctors to the intervention of the state.
And as someone has said before, the forced birthers want a 14 year old rape victim to carry to term when she is scarcely in position to care for the resulting child — and at considerable risk to her own life, and the entire process. They probably glibly say, well, she can just give it up for adoption, but it isn’t that simple. Being pregnant with a rapist’s demon seed IS THE PROBLEM. I am just utterly mystified why forced birthers fail to grasp this fact.
Similarly, the nuts in Texas that wanted to force a woman who WAS DEAD to remain on “life support” until she gave birth in 3 months, failing utterly to grasp basic biology. These legislators truly view a woman’s worth to be only equal to her ability to be an incubator.
The book concludes musing on the future. She quotes Jennifer Rich (author of Fixing Families) in her study of mothers accused of abuse or neglect (p. 188):
[Women] who were truly empowered could address the social inequalities that they endure. However, they may also question the role of the state in their private family life. They may advocate for themselves in interactions with welfare officials. They may question their lack of resources and opportunity. They may notice that they have been forced to transfer their subordination from men to the state, but have not become independent of self-sufficient.”
Though I would guess it is a case of if the state is paying you financial assistance, they get to say how you spend it and how you behave, as if that funding means you are bought and paid for, like the sweeps for drugs or presence of men.
Empowered women might be more inclined to opt out of reproduction and traditional caregiving and nurturing gender roles. Women might elect to not have children or to leave the care of their children and other dependents to others. And this is what I think people find so deeply troubling. When women are truly empowered, then we will be at the mercy of neither men nor the state. We will make our decision and live our lives as human beings, not fettered by social convention or social pressure. Our social arrangements will look very different. And they will not serve the interest of patriarchy. (p. 188)
She continues a bit more on page 189:
Until there are fundamental shifts in the way society is structured, introducing marginally more supportive measures or passing less punitive laws is only making a substantively sexist and racist system slightly less racist and sexist. At root, the answers to complex social problems will not be found in laws and court rulings alone but, rather, in broad-based measures that strengthen women’s economic status, education, choice-making, autonomy, sexual power, and health care.
This book, copyright 2009, I think was written before Hobby Lobby. I will have to double check. But it certainly is prior to the increasing massive restrictions that have been implemented, in violation of the right to choice established by Roe, and the increasing attack on access to and payment for contraception. The tampon tax writ large. Women have to pay for the privilege of having sex without pregnancy but men get their erectile dysfunction medication covered. Men get to be parents without going to jail for using drugs prior to sex, potentially damaging their sperm. But a woman who has a baby with issues is presumed to be the source of the problem.
It is only getting worse. Time for a sixties revival of in the streets protests I think, but we are all too busy trying to earn enough to feed and shelter ourselves and our families. And that’s just the way the Republicans want it. Forced birth for cheap wage slaves and cannon fodder and sex slavery status, essentially breeders for men.
4/2/2016 learned that the author also was active in an advocate for pregnant women’s group: