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Read Marge Piercy's Poem "Right to Life"

Marge Piercy's poem "Right to Life," remains painfully relevant, touching on themes of reproductive justice and women's bodily autonomy.


Marge Piercy wrote this poem in 1980; it matters even more today than it did forty-one years ago.


A woman is not a basket you place your buns in to keep them warm. Not a brood hen you can slip duck eggs under. Not the purse holding the coins of your descendants till you spend them in wars. Not a bank where your genes gather interest and interesting mutations in the tainted rain, any more than you are. You plant corn and you harvest it to eat or sell. You put the lamb in the pasture to fatten and haul it in to butcher for chops. You slice the mountain in two for a road and gouge the high plains for coal and the waters run muddy for miles and years. Fish die but you do not call them yours unless you wished to eat them. Now you legislate mineral rights in a woman. You lay claim to her pastures for grazing, fields for growing babies like iceberg lettuce. You value children so dearly that none ever go hungry, none weep with no one to tend them when mothers work, none lack fresh fruit, none chew lead or cough to death and your orphanages are empty. Every noon the best restaurants serve poor children steaks. At this moment at nine o’clock a partera is performing a table top abortion on an unwed mother in Texas who can’t get Medicaid any longer. In five days she will die of tetanus and her little daughter will cry and be taken away. Next door a husband and wife are sticking pins in the son they did not want. They will explain for hours how wicked he is, how he wants discipline. We are all born of woman, in the rose of the womb we suckled our mother’s blood and every baby born has a right to love like a seedling to sun. Every baby born unloved, unwanted, is a bill that will come due in twenty years with interest, an anger that must find a target, a pain that will beget pain. A decade downstream a child screams, a woman falls, a synagogue is torched, a firing squad is summoned, a button is pushed and the world burns. I will choose what enters me, what becomes of my flesh. Without choice, no politics, no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield, not your uranium mine, not your calf for fattening, not your cow for milking. You may not use me as your factory. Priests and legislators do not hold shares in my womb or my mind. This is my body. If I give it to you I want it back. My life is a non-negotiable demand.


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