Born to be a mother: Anatomy, autonomy, and substantive citizenship for women in Israel

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One of the major focuses of Israel's citizenship discourse is civic virtue. How the nation defines contributing to the community depends, however, on the citizen's gender. This article establishes the thesis that for Israeli Jewish women, the only route to acceptance in society is through the concept of "reproductive citizenship." The laws that most critically perpetuate what I term "the categorical imperative of compulsory motherhood" are abortion law and child support law. While ordinarily perceived as unrelated fields of state regulation, I argue that these bodies of law must be read together and exposed as a legislative enterprise designed to demarcate the normative boundaries of citizenship for Israeli women. Whereas abortion law mostly focuses on ensuring a "proper" numerical quantity and genetic quality of the Jewish people, child support law operates to ensure social quality. From this perspective, the gender-deadly combination of abortion-restrictive regulations and child support obligations supplies a unique and largely ignored lens through which to explore how the state constructs the social category of "woman." I conclude that the two laws reinforce the state's view that women have importance not as individuals, but as mothers, and that it is only through women's distinct maternal contribution to the nation that they may be incorporated into the Israeli collective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-315
Number of pages59
JournalHarvard Journal of Law & Gender
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


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