Reproductive Freedoms Threatened in the Netherlands

November 4, 2008

In today’s Comment is Free, Khaled Diab writes that the Dutch government wants to bring in a law that would sentence women deemed to be unfit mothers to take contraception for two years.  If they become pregnant during this time, their newborn infant will be taken away from them.

I’m not even sure where to start with this.  Such a law is clearly a serious violation of women’s rights.  First of all, it forces women to take contraception, thus denying them their right to bodily autonomy and to choose whether or not they want to have children.  Secondly, it places the onus of good parenting entirely on women – notice there’s no mention of what happens to “bad” fathers.  Thirdly, it denies the presumption of innocence – a person might be a bad parent for some reason, possibly beyond their control (ie postpartum depression) but then be a very good parent to their next child.

Finally, as Diab points out, this law might end up being used to target “undesirable” groups like Roma and immigrants.  Realistically, I think there’s no “maybe” about it, and that impoverished mothers should be included in Diab’s list of “the undesirables” targetted by this law.    The Netherlands, like the rest of Europe, is getting more and more xenophobic.  I read an article in Le Monde Diplomatique about 6 months ago describing campaigns by far-right groups throughout Europe “encouraging” white women to have more children and trying to prevent people of colour and immigrants from having more children, in order to “preserve white Europe” (of course, in reality, Europe has neverbeen a completely white continent).   Across Europe, including the UK, family-friendly workplace policies have been promoted, which is good, but they have been promoted on the grounds they will enable European families (and really, if you examine the policies, middle-class European families) to have more children – thus meaning that immigrant workers will no longer be required.  Meanwhile, the demonisation of impoverished people and people on benefits continues, and there is less and less support for parents and children on social assistance.

Diab seems to think that the bill will fail in Parliament because it violate the Dutch Constitution.  We can only hope.

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