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Shanesha Taylor: The Case of Punishing the Poor

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March 28, 2014

With the reproductive justice movement, the discussion often gets bogged down in life or death rhetoric. Pro-choice advocates also assume the fight is over as long as Roe V. Wade is in place. We have abortion clinics, Obamacare allows for insurance to cover contraceptives, and women have the right to vote. However, there’s a huge difference between what the laws allow and the access that is given. Abortion restriction laws have sweeping effects for low-income, women of color who struggle to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. The case of Shanesha Taylor is more important than ever.

News broke out earlier this week of Shanesha Taylor, a mother of two being arrested for child abuse charges. Her two children have been taken into the custody of Child Protective Services because she left them in her car. Understandable as to why she was arrested. Nobody can disagree that it was wrong and not the best option. Yet for Shanesha, it was the only option. Shanesha left her two young kids in her car while she was at a job interview. During the 45 minutes she was gone; a passerby noticed the kids crying in a car with no air condition and quickly called the authorities. Now, I’m not saying Shanesha should have had an abortion to resolve all of her problems, but it just shows how motherhood is not always easy.

Being homeless, unemployed, and with two kids; Shanesha didn’t have many other choices to feed her kids. Having her children was her choice and it’s clearly been hard enough, now imagine a society where abortion was illegal and forced motherhood was the only option. The same government that wants to restrict access to abortions and contraceptives will cut welfare programs, food stamp benefits, and now, criminalizes the poor mothers with children. The poor in this country are being punished simply for being poor.

Shanesha’s children have now been taken away from her and she now has a criminal record which would further reduce her opportunities to ever get a job. A Front Line report indicates that black children are twice as likely to be in the foster care system compared to white children. The media wants to use these statistics to support their claim of black mothers being unfit parents, when in reality, racism allows for black women to be targets of the so-called “justice system”. As of 2001, statistics show that 1 in 19 black women will be incarcerated. Instead of helping the struggling mother, she’s rewarded with jail time and is now separated from the very children she was trying to take care of.

Melissa McEwan correctly explains:

“That’s what really having no help from anyone looks like. People who don’t have family they can ask usually have neighbors, but Taylor is homeless. Or co-workers, but Taylor is jobless. Or someone they can pay, but Taylor has no money. With whom could she leave her children? There is no free daycare offered by the government—the same government that is trying to force women to have as many children as possible. She needs to leave her children somewhere while she goes on an interview to get a job to provide food and shelter. She leaves them in the car, because it is her only option. Nothing makes sense about indefinitely separating Taylor from her children, as punishment from her leaving them for 45 minutes. But criminalization is the only solution we have. We offer jail, instead of help.”

Poor women of color who make honest attempts in raising their children have to battle racism every day. They have to overcome job discrimination just to secure a job to put food on the table. The laws in place make it so hard to be a mother in the United States. Now, Shanesha’s kids are put in an uncertain and scary foster care system. When we force women to be mothers when they’re not ready or don’t have the resources to raise their children, this is what happens. This is the broken abortion system forcing contradictions between motherhood and a woman’s choice. Anti-choice groups want women to raise their children and be good parents, but are now criminalizing mothers for it. How are we valuing family ideals when others are set on tearing them apart?

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