“Marriage and Maternity”
“In the late revolution is an extract from the New York Medical Gazette rebuking a practice common married women, and demanding a law for its suppression. Much as I deplore the horrible crime of child murder, earnestly as I desire its suppression, I cannot believe with the writer of the above-mentioned article, that such a law would have the desired effect. It seems to me to be only mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains. We want prevention, not merely punishment. We must reach the root of the evil and destroy it.
To my certain knowledge this crime is not confined to those whose love of ease, amusement and fashionable life lead them to desire immunity from the cares of children: but is practiced by those whose inmost souls revolt from the dreadful deed, and in whose hearts the maternal feeling is pure and undying. What, then has driven these women to the desperation necessary to force them to committee such a deed? This question being answered, I believe we shall have such insight into the matter as to be able to talk more clearly of a remedy.
Women are educated to think that with marriage their individuality ceases or is transferred to their husbands. The wife has thenceforth no right over her own body. This is also the husband’s belief and upon which he acts. The matter what her condition, physical or mental, no matter how ill-prepared she may feel herself for maternity, the demands of his passions may never be refused.
He thinks, or cares nothing, for the possible result of his gratification. If it be that an immortal being, with all its needs, physical, mental, and moral, shall come into the world to sin, to suffer, to die, because of his few moments of pleasure, what cares he?… He gives his wife wealth, leisure, and luxury, and is, therefore, a devoted husband, and she is an undutiful, unloving wife, if her feelings fail to respond to his.
Devoted husband? Devoted to what? To self gratification at the expense of the respect of his wife. I know many who call themselves Christians, who would insist that they are gentlemen, who would never insult any woman – but their own wives. They think it impossible that they can outrage them; they never think that even in wedlock there may be the very vilest prostitution; and if Christian women are prostitutes to Christian husbands, what can we expect that the natural sequence – infanticide?
Women who are in the last stages of consumption, who know that their offspring must be puny, suffering, neglected orphans, are still compelled to submit to maternity, and dying in childbirth, are their husbands ever condemned? Oh, no! It was only his right is a husband he claimed, and if maternity or death ensued, surely he could not be blamed for that. He did not desire it… And if such a woman as the dying consumptive, rather than bring into the world such miserable children, rather perhaps that give life to a daughter to suffer all that she has adored, destroyed the little being, so she thinks, before lives, she would be punished by the law, and he, the real murderer, would go unrebuked, uncondemned. All the articles on the subject that I have read have been from men. They denounce women as alone guilty, and never include man in any plans proposed for the remedy of the evil.
… Guilty? Yes no matter what the motive, love of ease, or desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh! Thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impels her to the crime… God has never given woman’s individuality into the hands of man. If he has, why hold her responsible for the crime? If man takes her individuality, he must also take her responsibility. Let him suffer.
No, I say, yield to woman her God – given right of individuality. Make her feel that to God alone issue responsible for her deed; teacher that submission to any man without love and desire is prostitution; and thunder in her ear, “Who so defileth her body, defileth the temple of the Holy Ghost!” That maternity come to her from a desire to cherish love and train for high purposes an immortal soul, then you will have begun to eradicate this most monstrous crime…”
The Revolution 4 (1): 4 (July 8, 1869)
Quoted by Mary Krane Derr
There is some controversy about this passage. In The Revolution, this article was signed by the initial A, leading many scholars to believe it was written by Susan B. Anthony who had a history of only using her initials. But doubt remains in pro-choice circles.Share on Facebook