If the government now intends to force women to produce human capital, shifting motherhood from a voluntary act to a compulsory one, the government must pay women for this service. And they must pay mothers well beyond the going welfare rate. Women forced to produce the economy’s most valuable asset deserve at least the salary of the average American worker.
A Concept Not Without Precedent
State-compensated birth is not anything new. Many European countries have sought to boost human capital by subsidizing motherhood. Even those dastardly socialist countries know that a replacement-level birth rate is crucial to maintaining a healthy economy. Further, a nation doesn’t have to be ideologically left-leaning to compensate mothers. Turkey, an increasingly far-right state, has experimented with strategies to increase its birth rate, including doubling maternity leave from three months to six.
The U.S. has long acknowledged that compelling human beings to perform labor requires compensation (at least when it’s men doing the labor). During the draft, the government recognized that forcing men to put their bodies in the line of fire required a fair salary. And in all but eight states, even the inmates are paid for their labor.
Perhaps most importantly, our country’s Constitution has a thing or two to say about forced labor and controlled property. The 13th Amendment protects Americans against involuntary servitude, and the Fifth Amendment protects against private property being seized for public use. Per our Constitution, women cannot be compelled to perform labor (carry a pregnancy to term), and they cannot have their property (uterus) seized by the state to produce human capital. But if this is to be the new normal, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s blindered reading of American history, the government must step up and compensate women.
Circumstances That Once Justified Unpaid Motherhood Are Obsolete
So why haven’t we been compensating mothers all this time? Well, there used to be a salient argument for not compensating them. Emphasis on “used to be.” For many years, our economic system easily allowed for one-income households. Unfortunately, ours is not the economy of the 20th century. Households supported by single incomes are all but extinct.
Further, ours is not the America of the 18th or 19th centuries, in which coverture laws ascribed a woman’s legal status to that of her husband’s. Under those laws, the husband held dominion over his wife and was responsible for supporting her. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that the last vestiges of coverture all but disappeared with new rights for women like being allowed to serve on federal juries (1973), access to home mortgages (1974), and husbands no longer having the legal right to rape their wives (1993). In 21st-century America, women are supposed to be free human beings who deserve compensation for labor they are compelled to perform, just as any man would be.
Striking Down Roe V. Wade Incurs a Debt to America’s Women
Roe v. Wade pulled countless women up the economic ladder. The ability to delay motherhood by legal access to abortion meant women could finish college, spend more time in the labor force and work in higher-paying occupations before becoming mothers.
With Roe gone, if the government intends to forcibly rescind the human right to an abortion and invite the personal economic disadvantages that will follow, it must pay up. And for the “How we gonna pay for it?” question, I suggest the government appropriate funds from the bloated profit margins of our corporatocracy. Or perhaps remove Christianity’s tax-exempt status, as recent reports suggest the church now has the influence over our government our Founders fought so hard to prevent.
If America’s vocal minority intends to move our society away from a democracy founded on human rights, and if this minority intends to flirt with a brand of evangelical authoritarianism that would force births and strip the bodily autonomy of 51% of the population, the least the government can do is compensate mothers.
Republished with permission from the author, first published at the Tennessean.
Ren Brabenec is a writer, activist, and Planned Parenthood volunteer residing in Nashville, Tennessee.