One of the benefits of passing laws that rob people of their rights in the name of God is you never have to feel guilty about it. In fact you can congratulate yourself about it while others pay the price of your sanctimony with misery, poverty and even death. Yes, there’s nothing quite like it: shifting the blame onto the shoulders of the Almighty, as it were.
Naturally, it never occurs to such people that they could be wrong. Typically the people passing the rights-depriving laws are rich, privileged, male and white, while the people doing most of the suffering are poor, voiceless, female and frequently black.
So when the Supreme Court reversed the longstanding constitutional precedent of abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson, the poor and voiceless were the first to suffer, as usual. When you start taking women’s rights away there are all kinds of unintended consequences. For example, what do you do with incarcerated females who happen to be pregnant? Even if they were raped by a prison guard? Back in the good old Roe v. Wade days, she could have at least had a chance at an abortion. Now she’s being forced to have the kid.
Post-Dobbs, prisons in states where abortion is illegal can now entirely block incarcerated pregnant women and girls from seeking abortion healthcare out of state. They can even block those on probation and parole from traveling out of state to obtain abortions. As a consequence, unwanted pregnancy and childbirth has now become an additional form of punishment.
The Guttmacher Institute predicts that over half of the states in the United States will ban abortions eventually. Should that happen then as many as 3,000 women and girls each year in U.S. jails and and on probation could be forced to carry unwanted pregnancy to term without any recourse whatsoever.
Many women and girls in the carceral systems across the United States are pregnant because of rape. Rape and sexual assaults in prisons continue at epidemic rates despite passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. Many of the rapes are committed by male prison guards raping these incarcerated women and girls.
Either way the consequences can also be deadly. The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, particularly for women of color. So women in prison for minor crimes could be raped by their prison guards and die. They could effectively be facing the death penalty for petty crimes, thanks to the sanctimonious Supreme Court.
Children born into these circumstances are, statistically speaking, doomed from the start. They will be raised in circumstances where developmental milestones are seldom achieved and dysfunction is the order of the day. Chances are many of them will become the next incarcerated generation, where the women among them unfortunate enough to become pregnant as a result will produce a third generation of victims, and so on.
So thanks to the United States Supreme Court, forced birth is now a brand new form of punishment, adding to the misery of poor women of color already overburdened with a judicial system that is systemically racist. Can someone please explain to me again why America is known as “the land of the free”? And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.