Law, College of


Date of this Version



Hastings Law Journal 65 (2013), pp. 211-255.

(Formerly: )


Copyright (c) 2013 Beth A. Burkstrand-Reid


As soon as sperm enter a woman, so do law and politics, or so the decades-long disputes surrounding abortion suggest. Now, however, renewed debates surrounding contraceptives show legal and political interference with women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy may actually precede the sperm. This Article argues that, increasingly, women even thinking about having sex are defined socially and legally as “mothers.” Via this broad definition of who is a “mother,” the State extends its reach into women’s decision-making throughout their reproductive lifetime.

This Article argues that the State simultaneously devalues women’s choices to have sex for pleasure, which this Article calls desexualization, and uses medical rituals associated with motherhood, which this Article calls ritualization, to persuade women to accept the role of mother. Desexualization and ritualization signal the State’s attempt to influence women’s sexual and reproductive decisionmaking not only in the context of abortion but also in the areas of contraception, pregnancy, and childbirth.

(Updated December 2013)