ArticlesVolume 3, Number 1 (1992)

Poverty, Reproduction, and Autonomy in the Welfare State: Some Thoughts on the Ethics of Social Policy Legislation

Abstract

Autonomy for poor women is increasingly limited by a wide array of both state and federal legislative provisions governing social policy. Although the Supreme Court has forestalled the anticipated demise of Roe v. Wade with its recent decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, it is nevertheless appropriate at this time to focus the attention of pro-choice advocates on the role the state legislatures may play in the continuing struggle to establish reproductive freedom.

In this paper I will suggest that reproductive autonomy must be understood within the larger context of the growing conflict between welfare state ideology and women’s autonomy generally. This conflict impacts a broad range of issues that affect women’s lives. I will address the way in which women’s autonomy is threatened not only by overt attacks on abortion rights, but also by limitations on autonomy imposed upon beneficiaries of welfare entitlement programs, who are chiefly women. I will also discuss the expansion of legislative restrictions on autonomy.While Roe has not been explicitly overruled, it remains in a persistent vegetative state. The judicial analysis of abortion as a fundamental right has evolved such that abortion now has the status of an “interest” that can be limited by states as long as the limitations are not “unduly burden- some.” Autonomy for poor women is increasingly limited by a wide array of both state and federal legislative provisions governing social policies: Therefore, before turning to state or federal legislatures to replicate the protections once afforded by Roe, it is important to examine some of the peculiar properties of the legislative arena.