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Criminalization, Crisis and Care: Tennessee’s S.B. 1391 and Attacks on Reproduction

Below is a recent article written by members of the Florence Johnston Collective looking at the current crisis of reproduction and state control over/criminalization of women’s bodies.  Last week, a woman in Tennessee was arrested based on her pregnancy outcomes.  The Collective will be releasing a second article looking at these issues, along with a pamphlet for print and distribution.  See the original post here.

Tennessee recently passed a law, S.B. 1391, making it the first state to prosecute women for criminal assault if their fetus or newborn is considered harmed due to illegal drug use during pregnancy.  Criminalization of pregnant women and mothers is one side of the various ways the State attempts to control reproduction and discipline womens’ bodies.  This is an attack against working class women of color not unlike those we have seen in TexasCalifornianationally and globally.  All of these measures will impede women’s access to health care and efface women’s reproductive skills and knowledge.  But unlike abortion restrictions and forced sterilization, the Tennessee law is an attempt to divide feminized workers under the guise of “protection” of women and children, a strategy we are likely to see more frequently as the economic crisis deepens.

S.B. 1391 and the Crisis.

Today’s crisis is manifested in the inability of the class to take care of itself, or reproduce itself; it is a crisis of reproduction.  Wages are so low that the class cannot afford to get everything it needs to go to work every day.  Of course, “everything” we need is a relative term based on time and place; workers in America need a smartphone and cable TV after years of changes in living standards.  The class has supplemented this crisis of reproduction with personal debt.  We get credit cards to buy clothes and pay our cell phone bills and we take out student loans we will never pay back to make an extra $3/hr.  This is what life looks like for the working class today.

For the ruling class, there is another type of hustle.  It is a general law of capitalism that profits must always increase.  So capitalists make changes to the workplace, by introducing more and more machines and pushing workers out of the production process, to ensure an increased profit.  However, this catches up to them.  Since workers are the only ones capable of creating value (there is always a worker somewhere in the production process!), the more capitalists push workers out of the production process, the more the profit margin weakens.  Couple this phenomenon with the working class’s increased dependence on debt and loans and we find ourselves in today’s economic crisis.

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On top of this, because so many workers are pushed out of the production process (consider Detroit’s 23% unemployment rate for example), a surplus population of workers makes it possible for capitalism to pit people against each other in competition for jobs.  In this sense, the ruling class has an interest in controlling the actual number of workers there are in the world at a given moment, based on the needs of capital.

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