Why do abortion politics matter? Feminists have long argued that in addition to the importance of the denial of access to a necessary service, abortion politics mark the continued investment in the control of women’s bodies and the construction of womanhood as equivalent to motherhood. Without contesting this feminist insight, this paper argues that abortion politics can also turn our attention to a particular valence of the control of women’s bodies formed through the practice and knowledge production of medicine. Through an analysis of the 19th century criminalization of abortion, I posit the importance of understanding women’s partial political belonging as a form of what Etienne Balibar calls “internal exclusion,” conditioned on the ways in which women’s bodies become vehicles for establishing particular forms of political and social authority. Understanding women’s citizenship as a medicalized citizenship reveals the ways that extra-political social interaction produces horizons of meaning for contemporary abortion politics that remain centrally tied to questions of health as well as a diagnosis for the continued resistance to women’s full political belonging in the United States.
Claire McKinney is Assistant Professor of Government and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the College of William & Mary. Her work focuses on the intersection of feminist theory, disability studies, and contemporary political thought in the context of reproductive politics in the United States. Her work has appeared in Politics, Groups, and Identities and Disability Studies Quarterly and she has work forthcoming inHypatia and the Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy. She is currently completing a book manuscript tentatively titled A Healthy Body Politic: Abortion Politics, Gendered Citizenship, and Medicine.