With the leak of the draft for the supreme court to overturn Roe V. Wade, an uproar ensues as this action in itself is deemed an attack on human rights. As protesters begin to rally against the draft, it is often brought to attention the fact that the people dictating whether Roe v. Wade will be overturned are often individuals without uteruses. As nationwide we see a struggle to fight for reproductive rights, we are exposed to a repeat in history as we’ve seen this capitalizing off women's bodies in the opinions of non affected parties have happened in the past.
So where have we seen this before?
With the push against women’s rights taking place with the obstructive acts taken by the supreme court, many point to the historical past of colonialism and the demonizing of women during the witch trials.
With 16th century British imperialism, we saw a spread of capitalism following its influence. With this rise of capitalism, the structures of society began to formalize around the profiting off production- establishing clear social boundaries which revolved around money and the overuse of the working class. Yet with a series of pandemics and hardships- there was a shorter human mortality rate. The fear of losing populations of the working class became eminent to higher powers whose social living revolved around the abuse of the impoverished. Due to this, the ability to give birth became crucial to overall growth of the working class as interpreted from a capitalistic lens. Paired with the heavily patriarchal views of the time, a legal movement to restrict women’s rights over their bodies quickly became known as the witch hunts.
Among the many other ways in which women were targeted as witches, there had been the preying upon women's reproductive rights. Women who were uncontrollable were deemed dangerous and often we saw the usage of being without a husband and childless also contributed to the creation of the ‘witch’. During the time even the use of midwives which was common before this movement of witch hunts began being replaced with male doctors to restrict the amount of women having access to knowledge and power in the field of reproductive health. Around the same time despite the fact that prostitution was also something that had been normalized in society, it began to be ostrasized due to the implication of women having sex without fully partaking in the sexual reproductive labor which was demanded from them.
Those who partook in abortions were deemed as ‘working with the devil’ given a label which aligned with the popular notion of mainstream belief relying on religion. The creation of works such as ‘The Malleus’ was created, stating interruption of live births (pregnancy) was the work of Satan which would enable labeling women involved as witches. With laws as such where women begin to lose their reproductive rights due to the inclusion of faith and state affairs denouncing the true intention of depriving women from the right to their own bodies, we see parallels with today in which women who partake in this disruption of birth will be ostrasized in society as well- labeled ‘the murderer’ rather than ‘the witch’. And with these labels denouncing women, laws are put in place enabling the punishment of women who act for the sake of their own body autonomy. These laws introduced today are ‘fetal assault laws’, ones that put the laws of the unborn fetuses before the individual carrying it. In this scenario, women (especially pregnant women) lose the right to privacy as the state investigates the actions and behaviors of these women to prosecute them if they deem the actions of said individual goes against the safety of the fetus, similar to the prosecution and hunting for witches as women during this era were stripped of their rights – one’s that were not truly recognized during the time.
This is where the difference lies. During this era, women were not recognized as human. They were perceived as mere property to their husbands with the silencing of opposition and the discrediting of the women and authors who chose to speak out about this occurrence. Yet today, we feel as though ‘social progression’ has been made. Women are able to vote, work, and live without being seen as property to man- but is this truly the case? What more has changed in opposition to the past besides ‘legal inclusion’ of women's rights if these same rights can be taken away just as quickly?
With women/child-bearing individuals being targeted with their reproductive rights, we see an intrusion of privacy to push said laws against abortions and reproductive healthcare. With this being the case, more women are then incarcerated due to partaking in ‘potentially dangerous’ acts on an unborn fetus, causing them to be convicted as felons thus taking away their rights to vote. With the lack of the ability to vote and a criminal record, less promising jobs are then promised to women (as often seen when it comes to the assimilation of previously incarcerated individuals into society).
So what does this mean?
This creates a world targeting not only women’s reproductive rights, but ‘coincidently’, their rights to vote and having privacy living in the U.S. A chain reaction occurs as women are labeled as murderers, hunted down alike the persecution faced around 500 years ago. This is why the fight for reproductive rights becomes so important when confronted with its exposure or lack thereof in the media. These rights are not only historically something that has been deprived to use women’s bodies as a ‘means to an end’, but it crosses over ultimately on the basic human rights women have had to fight for so much in the past. And if the rights of women are so easily able to be stripped away, what stops the state from stripping away the rights of other parties- one’s who will later be labeled and prosecuted as monsters or witches themselves.
With this, the reality of what is occurring with the draft of the overturn of Roe v Wade becomes clear. It’s an attempt to digress the progress made in history, benefiting those in power who wish to sustain said power by depriving rights from others- establishing it as their own ‘right’ to do so. And if further action continues, the fear which has been born into women after the witch trials occurrence may become a reality, with the terms of how these persecutions occur adapting to the current times. This is why recognition of this fight becomes so significant. In order to truly enact change, a pushback must be made on attempts to repeat history- a pushback which not only demands the addressing of our history and its appearance in our current events, but how to speak up when we see laws restricting basic human rights. And it shows itself in the actions and conversations today, one’s that can be started by anyone– including yourself.
(Other pieces which may be of interest if looking into this topic)
“Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation” by Silvia Federic
“The White Witch of Rose Hall” H.G de Lisser (not a social criticism but shows how authors used the motive of being without children and husbandless among other things not mentioned in the article such as race and power dynamics to denounce women as witches).