With Roe on the brink of being overturned, no paid parental leave, and little government assistance for low-income parents thanks to GOP obstruction, the U.S. is proving their disdain for mothers.
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Every January, the anti-abortion “March for Life” draws thousands of abortion opponents to Washington, D.C. The March, which coincides with the anniversary Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, is one of the biggest moments for the anti-abortion movement to signify its power and to showcase its values. This year, marking the 49th and likely last anniversary of Roe, an abortion opponent dressed up as Wonder Woman while the white supremacist group the Patriot Front joined the March, holding a banner that said “STRONG FAMILIES MAKE STRONG NATIONS.”
The subtext was clear: White motherhood is sanctified strength.
Just a week earlier, two dozen women walked onto a local high school football field in Boston. Bundled up in their warm winter gear, they formed a large circle, facing each other. They all took a deep breath and readied themselves. Then, as a group, they screamed. Together, their collective anxiety and exhaustion fuel what they call the “primal scream.”
It’s no wonder they’re screaming. America’s mothers are clearly in crisis. Article after article details the overwhelming burden of managing the Covid pandemic alongside occupying nearly every imaginable role for their families, from caregivers to financial planners to housekeepers. As sociologist Jessica Calarco explained, “Other countries have social safety nets. The U.S. has women.” For mothers who also work outside the home, it’s been disastrous. Amid the strain, they have left their jobs in droves, and it’s unclear if they will ever be able to return. The strain of nearly two years of living with the pandemic has brought many mothers to their breaking point.
The United States is the only developed nation in the world without paid parental leave, an embarrassment that the Biden administration attempted to correct with its Build Back Better legislation. Recent research even revealed that cash aid to low-income mothers in the first year of their children’s lives can lead to stronger cognitive development among children. But no matter—thanks to obstinate Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, that legislation is stalled indefinitely, along with paid leave and increased financial assistance for families in need.
In December, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, centering on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, a flagrant and intentional violation of Roe. The Court, now with a dominant 6-3 majority, signaled what many of us have long feared: Roe’s days are numbered.
If Roe is, in fact, overturned, abortion could become illegal in more than half the states in the union. The South and Midwest would become complete abortion deserts. Suddenly, this country is on the precipice of mandating birth and parenthood for significant numbers of pregnant people. In some states, it’s already happening. When Texas banned abortions at six weeks and then deputized private citizens to sue to enforce that law, the Supreme Court shrugged, refusing to intervene. In Oklahoma, state legislators are now considering a bill that would create a government database of potential abortion patients. Under the proposed legislation, potential abortion patients would call a hotline and be connected to a “pre-abortion resource” assistant, who is legally barred from directing callers to abortion care. If this absurd bill becomes law, the Oklahoma government would, quite literally, have a list of every pregnant person in the state.
The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, and rates have been consistently increasing in the last two decades. Now, with the imminent end of nationwide legal abortion and states rushing to pass evermore draconian anti-abortion legislation, those rates are sure to rise.
Instead of creating a social safety net, the U.S. continues to pile that labor onto its own mothers. With the end of Roe on the horizon, we will undoubtedly have more of them, regardless of what those pregnant folks want. A country that makes mothers its de facto safety net, that mandates motherhood, that cannot enact even the most basic legislation to support pregnant and parenting folks, doesn’t venerate mothers; it loathes them.
Can’t afford to bring your pregnancy to term? You don’t have a choice! Can’t afford to take unpaid time off from work to care for your newborn? Figure it out! Afraid of complications from pregnancy or childbirth due to a pre-existing condition? Oh well! Don’t want to have children? You’re selfish! Need TANF and/or SNAP benefits to support your family? You should have thought about that before you had kids! Rinse and repeat.
Take the fanatics at the March for Life. They weren’t marching for cash assistance to low-income families or expanded health-care access. Their position has never been about children or motherhood, but about who gets to reproduce the nation, and who gets to maintain power within that nation. Any nation that forces people to give birth against their will, that systematically refuses to provide structural and financial care to support those children, that simultaneously stigmatizes unintended pregnancy, single motherhood, and childlessness—that nation’s view of motherhood isn’t one of glorified sanctity, but of utter contempt.
Motherhood in America isn’t anointed—it’s a punishment.
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