During a hearing before the US Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Michelle Goodwin, a policy director at the University of California Law School, made clear the connection between anti-abortion laws today and the practices of American slavery.
“Two words you will not find in the Dobbs decision,” Goodwin told Senators, “Black woman or Black women.”
Goodwin said the Dobbs decision, which relies heavily on historical norms to overturn abortion rights, was “selective and opportunistic.”
“When abortion became criminalized in this country, it was leading to and around the time of the Civil War,” she noted. According to Goodwin, this rush to criminalize the practice was coupled with fear-mongering political rhetoric about the “browning” of America.
“Forced pregnancy was also a feature of American slavery,” Goodwin testified.
She argued that the 13th Amendment, which abolished chattle slavery in the US, also specifically related to the forced pregnancies placed upon Black women and girls that they had to endure.
Goodwin then read through a series of advertisements placed in local papers in the 1700s and 1800s. The advertisements urged the capture of “runaways” and referred to pregnant women and young children as property.
“Baked into the story of American slavery and abolition is the story of sexual terrorism inflicted on Black girls and women,” Goodwin said.
Legacy of slavery and Jim Crow echoes in today’s abortion laws.
Goodwin then spoke specifically to anti-abortion laws in the United States today, with an emphasis on the deep South.
“There is a reason why women in Mississippi have sought to be able to terminate pregnancies… for their own safety,” Goodwin said.
According to Goodwin, Mississippi is “one of the most dangerous places in the industrialized world” to be pregnant.
Black women in Mississippi are 118 times more likely to die carrying a pregnancy to term than having an abortion.
“Mississippi has notoriously been a death sentence of Black women,” Goodwin said. The legacy of that danger dates back to the time of slavery, through Jim Crow and to the present.
“If we don’t thread that needle together,” she continued, “then there is a lot that we are missing.”