The Supreme Court’s Parent Trap

Women have fewer rights these days. We knew this was coming; the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion in May laying bare its hostility to women’s autonomy and footnoting the poor state of the “domestic supply of infants” gave ample notice. Then came another massacre of schoolchildren, followed by yet another Court decision, further distorting history and the Second Amendment into a supposed right to carry weapons wherever. In short, we have pitched headlong into a moral catastrophe. And even as advocates of privacy and ‘the right to choose’ fight battles, state by state, to preserve liberty, the fallout from this decision cascades across the world.

Banning abortion is not only a form of violence against women. It assaults the essence of liberty—the right to choose whether to become a parent. Millions now face having to bring a child into this world, only to witness the child condemned to a life of agony and impoverishment. No supposedly “free” society should do that to anyone. But amidst this assault on freedom, it is worth considering why some of us have contained our outrage. 

Industrial agriculture is also based on the exploitation of the female reproductive system. Protesting the criminalization of abortion while subsidizing and consuming the products of the forced impregnation of other beings is like condemning slavery while trading in blood diamonds.

Involuntary gestation, forced lactation and babies ripped from mothers who are then forcibly re-impregnated is not a dystopian nightmare—it is an everyday reality for female nonhumans trapped in industrial agriculture. We breed them, take their milk and eat their babies; we do this heedless of the costs to the animals or the environment.

On commercial farms, baby cows are taken from their mothers after birth to stop the calves from taking milk. Studies show mother cows grieve the loss of their babies. (Public Domain)

Disrespect for women and for other species lies at the heart of the current, unprecedented crisis of human health and ecological degradation. In both cases, we treat female bodies as objects for economic gain. There is also a correlation between our subjugation of nonhumans and our unwillingness to recognize that the right to procreate is tethered to a responsibility to the procreated. 

On this, pro and anti-abortion forces should be able to agree. The not-yet-born deserve to emerge into loving homes in a peaceful country that arcs toward justice. Forcing women to bear children not only assaults their bodies and violates their rights, it compels them to break faith with their children. 

In the United States, we have struggled for decades to move toward a more just society where the rights and dignity of all people are acknowledged and respected. That path is long and the progress slow, but one of the most crucial gains of the last century involved recognizing that bodily autonomy is a fundamental right. As our national gaze broadened, we began also to see how the suffering of women resembles the suffering of other disempowered beings. Now, the Court has stripped women of their rights and declared that the constitutional right to liberty is not universal but rather a sex-specific perk. 

Reproductive freedom is an individual right and a collective responsibility. Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive. Birthing a child involves assuming responsibility for that child’s well-being. When the state decides that children will be born whether or not they can be properly parented, it is not only violating the rights of the conscripted adults, but also abusing those unborn children. Those children will inherit the poverty and environmental carnage wrought by our national contempt for women. 

Freedom, as they say, is not free. Future children have rights too. As Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, said, focusing on children getting born without focusing on their access to housing, food and educated is not “pro-life.” It is merely “pro-birth.” It also perpetuates a climate-destroying cycle of poverty and consumption. 

Our dietary freedom comes with costs. Consuming the products of female exploitation is both ethically suspect and environmentally fraught. Taste shouldn’t be factored into any discussion about whether cutting consumption is morally just or ecologically needful. Every gallon of water contaminated, every hectare of forest cleared, every ton of carbon regurgitated, brings the planetary ecosystem closer to collapse. 

We are backsliding legally, morally and ecologically. The damage from the Court’s misguided decision will be planetary. The victims will span generations of humans and nonhumans alike. We dissent.

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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About and

David Cassuto is professor of law and Michael A. Calandra Jr. faculty scholar at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, the class of 1946 distinguished visiting professor of environmental studies at Williams College, and Counsel to the Fair Start Movement.
Carney Anne Nasser is the Clinic Research Fellow at the Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School and a frequent contributor to the national media on animal law issue.