Privacy and Prurience: An Essay on American Law, Religion, and Women
American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 51, p. 461, 2011
44 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2011
Date Written: June 1, 2011
In my studying of American law – in its relation to religion and to privacy and to women – the current bookends of my readings consist of two sets of texts: the first, certain writings from the 17th-century Massachusetts Bay Colony; the second, certain writings from the United States Supreme Court of very recent years. The first set consists of reports and records generated in Massachusetts incident to the Antinomian Controversy of 1836-1838, particularly reports of the trials of Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer, and accounts of the “monstrous births” of each. The second set includes writings from year 2007: the United States Supreme Court’s opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart (its most recent abortion decision), and the amicus briefs filed therein.
Examining and juxtaposing those sets of writings, this essay discloses striking resonances between the 17th-century and the 21st-century texts. It documents in each: religio-judicial prurience in examinations and constructions of female bodies; and disappearance of “privacy” as a protector of women’s autonomy and women’s liberty.
Keywords: Religion, Abortion, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Antinomian Controversy, Anne Hutchingson, Mary Dyer, Monstrous Births, Supreme Court, Gonzales v.Carhart, Privacy, Women, Autonomy, Liberty, Equality
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation