Forced Labor: Why the Thirteenth Amendment Protects Abortion Rights | Washington Monthly – OpEd

or centuries in America, a class of persons was regarded as a servant caste whose duty was to work for the benefit of others and not themselves. That duty was bound up with a complex legal structure that closed off avenues of escape to ensure they did the work they were expected to do. Their bodies and lives were subjected to totalitarian control.

The service in question was enforced in some states but not others. Many thought that the laws imposing the service were human rights violations and sought to help the victims get away. The states that imposed the service sought to criminalize the rescuers.

At the core of the dispute was the physical control of some people’s bodies by others. The system of bodily control was based on entrenched structures of inequality that deemed some bodies intrinsically instrumental, markers of social and political inferiority.

The states that did this insisted that it was their prerogative to decide whether to make this imposition on some of their residents and that outsiders had no right to interfere. They argued that this was an issue of federalism and states’ rights. Each state could address the issue in its own way.

I just described America before the Civil War, and I have also described the country today, riven by the issue of abortion. The constitutional difference…Read More


Andrew Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law at Northwestern University, is the author of “Burning Down the House: How Libertarian Philosophy Was Corrupted by Delusion and Greed” (St. Martin’s Press). Follow him on Twitter @AndrewKoppelman.

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