The law also fostered the white slave owner's control of the Black slave women's reproduction by granting slave owners a devisable in futuro interest in their slaves' potential children. This legally-protected property interest in the unborn gave slave owners a financial incentive to protect the fetus even while inflicting violence upon the mother. Roberts describes one shocking yet common practice that exemplifies the consequences of legal recognition of the slave-owners' property interest in unborn slaves:

 The conflict between mother and child was most dramatically expressed in the method of whipping pregnant slaves that was used throughout the South. Slaveholders forced women to lie face down in a depression in the ground while they were whipped ....This was a procedure that enabled the master to protect the fetus while abusing the mother.

As both the acceptance of rape and slave owners' in futuro property interest in their slaves' offspring make clear, the legal structures that ensured white slave owners to control their slaves' reproduction meant that Black women's childbearing in bondage was largely a product of oppression rather than an expression of self-definition and personhood ....The essence of Black women's experience during slavery was the brutal denial of autonomy over reproduction. Sadly, Roberts' assertion that Black women's childbearing in bondage was largely a product of oppression rather than an expression of self-definition and personhood continues to be the case today among Black female inmates. 

Historically, the denial of Black women's reproductive autonomy has not been confined to the institution of slavery. Dorothy Roberts points out that persistent stereotypes about the inferiority of Black mothers and the resulting tendency of law, social policies, and medical practices to treat a pregnant woman's interests in opposition to those of her fetus are also to blame. Roberts argues that such positioning of the mother's interests in opposition to those of her fetus encourages government to restrict pregnant women's autonomy.

Consider, for example, former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's report for the U.S. Department of Labor: The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. The Moynihan Report, as it is often called, essentially depicted the Black mother as the emasculating Sapphire whose domineering ways were to blame for the decline of the Black nuclear family and the rise in single, Black motherhood:

Consider the fact that relief investigators or caseworkers are normally women and deal with the housewife. Already suffering a loss in prestige and authority in the family because of his failure to be the chief breadwinner, the male head of the family feels deeply this obvious transfer of planning for the family's well being to two women, one of them an outsider. His role is reduced to that of errand boy to and from the relief office.

Roberts asserts that one response to this demeaning of Black motherhood in the U.S. social consciousness and political sphere is to reframe Black motherhood as an empowering denial of the dominant [white] society's denigration of their humanity:

Bearing and nurturing Black children ensure the life of the Black community. Bearing and nurturing Black children counteract a racist society's power to kill Black children through poverty, malnutrition, inadequate health care, and unsafe housing. Bearing and nurturing Black children defy the dehumanizing message that Black people do not deserve to procreate.

Thus, the shackling of Black inmates in labor can be understood not only as a modern incarnation of the wrongs of slavery but also as a forceful undermining of radical motherhood to which the woman is powerless and without legal remedy.