Archives de Tag: Avortement

Dalla Costa : knowledge of the witches and masculinization of the obstetric field.

This combined strategy of “denying access” and “outlawing” well-educated urban healers in Europe was so effective that by the end of the fourteenth century the campaign by professional doctors against them was practically over. Male doctors obtained a monopoly in medicine for the wealthy classes.

Obstetrics, however, still lay outside their expertise and, despite a wealthy clientele, remained an exclusively female field for another three centuries. Obstetrics later came to face an alliance of the intent of the state, the church and the (male) medical profession, which advocated that this field also be given to the “regular” medical profession, controlled bu the state and the church, at the price of the exterminating of the “witches” – mostly midwives and healers who came from and worked among the poor. But this persecution formed part of a complex of social macro-operations that took place in various periods, some already early in the fourteenth century, and the most famous of which was the expropriation/enclosure of common lands. If the latter was used to create the misery necessary for the beginnings of the capitalist mode of production, by making available massive numbers for the workforce, the witch-hunt was used instead to expropriate from women their own bodies. This was accomplished first of all by depriving women of the knowledge and the power to decide with regards to their reproductive powers, because the reproduction of individuals – from now on, the reproduction of the workforce, as far as it concerned the expropriated and impoverished people – had to be under state control by means of the medical profession. […] Federici (1984) in particular observes how the witch hunt spread in Europe between the fourteenth and the seventeenth century, reaching an apex between 1550 and 1650, when it is estimated 100,000 women were burned alive, often after vicious torture. The victims were, as I have said, mostly country midwives guilty of knowing not only about childbirth, but also about abortion and contraceptives, as well as healers and women of ill repute. But it was much easier for women to be accused when they were alone, unmarried, old, and above all leaders of urban and peasant rebellions caused by rising prices, by the repeated levying of new taxes, and particularly by the expropriation of land. However, virgins and pregnant women were normally not sent to the stake. This (the greatest sexocide that history has ever recorded – and which represents a fundamental turning point in the history of the struggle between the classes and between the sexes, erased, even if never completely, along with the women who were executed, popular medicine, and especially the gynecological and obstetric knowledge that had been in their hands alone. This knowledge was replaced with an official medicine, controlled by the state and the church, that would need centuries before it was able to replace the void left by the extermination of healers and midwives with something authentically therapeutic. It is worth knowing that while there were witches who had acquired profound knowledge of bones and muscles, of herbs and drugs, the physicians of the time still made their prognoses using astrology.

Mariarosa Dalla Costa “Hysterectomy : A Woman’s view of its Medical Facets, Historical Development and Ethical and Legal Questions” in Hysterectomy, Capitalist Patriarchy and the Medical Abuse of Women, p. 35-36


the formation of a multinational working class has its origins in the history of women as a section of the class. Women began, particularly since the war, to take their own direction in an increasingly homogeneous and diffuse way. Hence, the emergence of a new quality of political power, as expressed by this class, has to be attributed to, and defined in terms of the new processes of autonomy opened up within the class by its various sections and particularly by woman.
Above all by women’s refusal to procreate.
During the second half of the Sixties, all European coun- tries registered a dramatic fall in the birth rate8 that cannot be wholly attributed to the increased availability of contraceptives.9 The birth rate fell particularly steeply among those sectors that formerly had proved to be less successful in controlling their fertility10
Women were better able to reject State controls over procreation the more they resisted pressure from within the family, from the elderly, from husbands, from other children.
This rejection and resistance can be found to a greater or lesser degree in all countries irrespective of whether the number of women in waged work is high or low, whether the country is one of immigration or emigration and whether the women are “native” or immigrants themselves.
Thus the family, the centre of unpaid work and personal dependence, has emerged as the primary terrain on which women have managed to resist and to organize themselves at a mass level.
The more women succeed in freeing themselves from the constraints of the family the more they will be able to succeed in emancipating themselves from conditions that limit their ability to improve their lives.

Mariarosa DALLA COSTA, “reproduction and emigration”

As Eli Hecksher noted, “an almost fanatical desire to increase population prevailed in all countries during the period when mercantilism was at its height, in the later of the 17,h century” (Heckscher 1 966: 158). Along with it, a new concept of human
beings also took hold, picturing them as just raw materials, workers and breeders for the state (Spengler 1965: 8). But even prior to the heyday of mercantile theory, in France and England the state adopted a set of pro-natalist measures that, combined with Public:
Relief, formed the embryo of a capitalist reproductive policy. Laws were passed that put a premium on marriage and penalized celibacy, modeled on those adopted by the Roman Empire for tills purpose. The family was given a new importance as the key institution providing for the transmission of property and the reproduction of the work-force. Simultaneously, we have the beginning of demographic recording and the intervention of the state in the supervision of sexuality, procreation, and family life.
But the main initiative that the state cook to restore the desired population was the launching of a true war against women clearly aimed at breaking the control they had exercised over their bodies and reproduction. As we will see later in this volume, this war was waged primarily through the witch-hunt that literally demonized
form of birth-control and non-procreative sexuality, while charging women with sacri­ficing children to the devil. But it also relied on the redefinition of what constitutes reproductive crime. Thus, starting in the mid-16th century. while Portuguese ships were
returning from Africa with their first human cargoes, all the European governments began to impose the severest penalties against contraception, abortion and infanticide.
This last practice had been treated with some leniency in the Middle Ages, at in the case of poor women; but now it was turned into a capital crime, and punished more harshly than the majority of male crimes.

« In sixteenth century Nuremberg, the penalty for maternal infanticide
was drowning; in 1 580, the year in which the severed heads of three
women convicted of maternal infanticide were nailed to the scaffold
for public contemplation, the penalty was changed to beheading (King 1 991: 10).60 

New forms of surveillance were also adopted to ensure that pregnant women did not terminate their pregnancies. In France, a royal edict of1556 required women to register every pregnancy, and sentenced to death those whose infants died before after a concealed delivery, whether or not proven guilty of any wrongdoing. Statutes were passed in England and Scotland in 1624 and 1690. A system of spies also created to surveil unwed mothers and deprive them of any support. Even an unmarried pregnant woman was made illegal, for fear that she might escape the public scrutiny; while those who befriended her were exposed to public criticism
1993: 51-52; Ozment 1983: 43).

Silvia FEDERICI, Caliban and the Witch, p. 88