The case of Carrie Buck and the Supreme Court’s age-old crusade to police women

By | February 26, 2024

I’d like to take Alabama Chief Justice Tom Parker for coffee and talk to him about his recent claim that frozen embryos are children too. The Alabama Supreme Court recently wrongly ruled that embryos – in or out of the womb – are children, and that destroying them is “an affront to God.”

I would like to share with Judge Parker the trauma and costs that my own daughter and her husband endured in their efforts to have children. I would tell him that my daughter had four embryos implanted, but she only has two children. I would like to explain in the simplest possible terms why women around the world reject embryos every month that do not implant. I would explain how my daughter rejected embryos that had been surgically implanted at a cost of $30,000 each. I’d like to share with him how these discarded embryos are then flushed down the toilet along with urine and the remains of menstruation, because Parker and the rest of the Alabama Supreme Court clearly have no idea how a woman’s body functions, or how fertility work, or the emotional and financial chaos that results from lawmakers (usually white men) making reproductive decisions for women.

But I doubt Parker would join me for coffee. He would mark me, a woman of the same Christian faith, a heretic with a liberal agenda. I wonder if men like Parker ever listen to women on any issue.

The reality is that lawmakers like Parker ascribe to a theology that gives them the authority to rule over women in every area of ​​a woman’s life, but especially when it comes to reproduction. This theology of patriarchy has underpinned our legal system for well over a century.

Take the case of Carrie Buck.

She was a foster child from Virginia, seventeen and pregnant, the result of a rape by her foster parents’ cousin. To protect their nephew, the foster parents took Carrie to court, had her declared ‘unfit’ for her mother, claimed her daughter as their own and then had her imprisoned.

Her only crime? Being born into poverty as a girl. That alone ensured that her vote would never count in a court of law. So when then-Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that she could never have another child, Carrie was surgically sterilized.

She never had another baby.

Although this was not the first forced sterilization carried out by the state of Virginia, it was the lawsuit that would allow all states to forcibly sterilize anyone they deemed unfit.

I first read about forced sterilizations in a 2020 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at an ICE detention center in South Georgia, reported that a doctor who worked for the center sterilized women without their consent or even their knowledge. Wooten is a former nurse, because after becoming a whistleblower, this mother of five lost her job. After human rights groups filed suit on behalf of these prisoners, it was discovered that the doctor who performed these sterilizations was not even a board-certified gynecologist.

People are often shocked to hear that such barbaric treatment of women is still allowed under federal law, but the truth is that when it comes to reproductive rights, much like the recent ruling in Alabama, the courts have given women a long time treated like second-class citizens. Abortion was legal and an accepted practice in the US until the late 19th century, when Horatio Storer, a surgeon with deep concerns that Catholic immigrants were having more babies than white Protestants, took his condemnations to the American Medical Association ( AMA) and pushed them to criminalize abortions. The then all-male AMA was keen to focus on female practitioners and midwives providing abortion care.

Women wouldn’t gain the freedom to make decisions about our own reproductive health until 1973, when the Supreme Court upheld it. Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. But in a society where patriarchy underpins our legislative institutions, such freedoms were short-lived.

I was 17, the same age as Carrie, when I checked into the maternity ward of a Georgia hospital in 1974 to have an abortion. The black woman who shared my room was in her early fifties. Already a mother of eight children, she said she was physically unable to handle another pregnancy. We had choices, choices that women in Georgia, and many other states, no longer have today, thanks to the 2022 Supreme Court ruling. Dobbs concludes Overturn Roe. In making that decision, the Supreme Court’s narrow majority determined that The ratifiers of the Constitution (all men of a certain demographic) never intended to grant reproductive freedom to women, or they would have specifically stated so.

Both the 1927 Buck v. Bell decision and the 2022 Dobbs concludes grants state lawmakers rights to women’s reproductive health. These laws, like the Alabama ruling, are common in their intent to deny women’s autonomy over their bodies. The 1927 decision denies women the right to have children, while the 2022 decision forces women to have children. They are both specifically designed to subject women to male authority.

The Supreme Court of the United States is fallible. History is full of sad stories like Carrie Buck’s. Who we choose matters. As voters, we need to become better informed about the policies our elected leaders support, and how those policies will affect not only our daily lives, but the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

When we vote, we should keep girls like Carrie Buck in mind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *