Baby-farming and abortion

This article, by Dorothy L. Haller, describes how “baby farmers” in Victorian England exploited extreme prejudice against unmarried mothers by taking in unwanted babies for payment, but then letting them die slowly by feeding them watered down milk (he longer they lives the more payments they received). The essay focuses on how the clampdown on this practice was reluctant and slow, partly through fears of encouraging ‘immorality’, and partly from the belief that the state shouldn’t interfere in personal matters. What I found surprising was that early suffragettes shared this reluctance:

The Bill contained a clause which required the registration and supervision of nurses in the manufacturing districts who cared for children on a daily basis, and, much to the ILPS’ [the Infant Life Protection Society] amazement, it enraged members of the suffrage movement. Lydia Becker, editor of the Women’s Suffrage Journal and leader of the Manchester branch of the National Society of Women’s Suffrage, blasted the clause. Her journal reeked of the laissez-faire attitudes of the day, “officialism, police interference, and espionage,” would oppress the ratepayers and infringe on the rights of the individual. She also objected to the entire registration and supervision process being handled entirely by men.

This argument, that women should be free from state-, male-based, interference, is parallel to contemporary feminist arguments for abortion (‘Choice’), undermining the arbitrary drawing of a moral line between a human being in the womb and one (just) out of it.

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