Jeb Bush passed a law when he was governor of Florida that required unwed mothers to publish their sexual history in the newspaper in order to give their babies up for adoption. Bush was nostalgic for a simpler time -- when women were publicly shamed for engaging in sex out of wedlock. Not kidding.
The Huffington Post published an excerpt from Bush's 1995 book, Profiles in Character. In a chapter called The Restoration of Shame, Bush argued that what we really needed to cure the "ills" of modern society was a little public shaming:
"One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct. Their parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior. There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful."
Remember Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlett Letter? The main female character is forced to wear the letter "A" for having a child out of wedlock. Basically, she has an affair that produces a child, and she becomes identified only as an adulterer her entire adult life, even though she lives the existence of a saint who does nothing but keep to herself and do charitable work. Oh, and when she dies her tombstone only bears an "A" too. Bush loved this idea. He said, "Infamous shotgun weddings and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter are reminders that public condemnation of irresponsible sexual behavior has strong historical roots." Oh, yeah. Let's go back to that. Good times.
Back to the "Scarlett Letter Law" that was in place in Jeb Bush's Florida: he refused to veto the bill in 2001, so it became law and wasn't repealed until 2003 when it was successfully challenged in court. For two years, a woman who could not name the father of her child was forced to take out an ad in a local newspaper if she wanted to place that child up for adoption. The Daily Beast reports that these ads "listed her name and description as well as the name and description of each possible father and the locations were the baby could have been conceived."
Bush is notoriously anti-choice, but thought it was a good idea to put up roadblocks for women who were just attempting to find stable homes for the children they brought into the world. The Daily Beast notes that the abortion rate skyrocketed in Florida after the law was passed: "there were almost 2,000 more abortions in the first six months of 2002 -- after the legislation went into effect -- than in the first six months of 2001."
Why is this story surfacing now? Because Bush is one of the Republican frontrunners for nomination for the 2016 presidential campaign. It's terrifying to think that someone who decades ago thought public humiliation and shaming were an effective way to promote social change is a serious consideration for our next president. When you are anti-choice and also anti-easy access to adoption of unwanted babies -- what does that say about you? It says you just want to criminalize a woman's sexuality.
Women carry a responsibility that men never will -- the physical repercussion of failed birth control. Not every pregnancy is wanted. It's hard for a lot of people to wrap their brains around that -- but women bear a physical responsibility that men never will. It's terrifying to think we may once again be in a position to be under a president who is okay with essentially criminalizing a woman's sexuality.