Texas abortion law is a disturbing echo of ancient Rome


Nothing creates unity more effectively than division. Too often, societies have defined themselves by what they are not and by what they are not: this is what we value and believe, and if you don’t, then with you. Building a community through exclusion involves the denial of full citizenship rights or human status to certain people, often those who differ in appearance, language or “culture” at large. In this way of thinking, citizenship rights depend on choosing to espouse beliefs which, by definition, are presumed to be superior. The belief that others are making the wrong choices offers a particular group of citizens a haunting confirmation of their own excellence.

Even more powerful is the empowerment of citizens on the “right side” to take matters into their own hands. Something like this is happening in Texas under SB 8, which prompts anyone – even people who don’t live in Texas – to sue clinics, practitioners, and those who help and encourage abortions after six weeks. Anyone who successfully sues will receive at least $ 10,000. Indeed, this law incites civic division, turning citizens against each other to support the political domination of a chosen group.

As I soak up the details of this law, I am struck by a parallel with ancient Rome, the culture I study and teach, and which serves as a model for so many of our institutions.

In 43 BC. the first emperor of Rome; Mark Antony, Caesar’s ambitious lieutenant; and Lepidus, the proverbial third wheel. Together these three formed the triumviri reipublicae constituentndae, the triumvirate for the preservation of the state. In pursuit of this nebulous goal, the triumvirate took steps to fund its military forces – roughly two-thirds of the Republic’s army – and get rid of political opponents. They published a list of citizens who were automatically sentenced to death without trial, their property subject to state confiscation. But here too, the state has not done its own dirty work. Instead, anyone could kill an outlawed citizen and claim a reward. Not only did these legally sanctioned murders strengthen the triumvirate’s claim to protect the Republic; they also strengthened the unity of the non-proscribed. This promulgated a new definition of Roman citizenship: those who supported the triumvirate were there, while its opponents became the “others” excluded.

Although Rome is nominally a republic, citizenship and its privileges were the exclusive preserve of a narrow segment of its population. Only adult male citizens enjoyed full legal rights, while women, minors, slaves and freedmen were still subject to the control of others. Under the triumvirate, proscriptions effectively inflicted the same non-status on those who were marked as threats to legitimate power, depriving them of the citizen’s basic right to bodily autonomy. What followed was the end of the republican regime. Octavian soon turned the military machine of Rome against his own colleagues, and after defeating them, he instituted autocracy for the remainder of the history of the Republic.

The fictions that supported the triumvirate proscriptions have a parallel in the dehumanizing effects of SB 8, which is rooted in a monolithic apprehension of those deemed “pro-abortion”. No one is pro-abortion; they are rather pro-choice, seeking to defend the right to bodily integrity for all citizens. As we watch events unfold in Texas, we should be deeply concerned not only about the horrific impact of SB 8 on those in need of abortions, but also how the law co-opts those who choose to act. as voluntary agents of a repressive regime. diet. If history has a lesson here, they are getting involved in the downfall of the society they claim to be protecting.

Jessica Blum-Sorensen is Assistant Professor of Classical Studies in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of San Francisco.

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