Study Finds U.S Guilty of Rampant “Criminalization of Pregnancy”
1:30 pm, January 17th | by Colette McIntyre
A new study by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) found that a particular manipulation of the Roe v. Wade ruling has been used to persecute hundreds of pregnant women. Post-Roe feticide statutes that establish distinct rights for the unborn have resulted in a “criminalization of pregnancy” — hundreds of women have been “arrested, convicted, jailed, detained in mental institutions or forced to endure medical procedures” in an effort to protect their fetuses.
Relying primarily on public records, the study identified 413 criminal and civil cases involving arrests, detentions and “equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s liberty” starting in 1973, the year the Supreme Court made its landmark decision in Roe v Wade, and spanning four decades. The pregnant women ranged in age from 12 to 43, two of the cases involving minors. Researchers discovered that women were arrested for a wide-range of pregnancy-related reasons including termination, expressing plans to terminate, and also unintentional pregnancy loss. According to the study, low-income and African American women were more likely to be targets; 56 percent of the cases originated in the South. Though the study is alleged to be the most comprehensive of its kind, the NAPW believes that the 413 cases are a “substantial undercount.”
The report, which will be published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law, says that the prosecutors for these cases relied upon feticide statues as well as vague “personhood” measures in state abortion legislation, as well as a misinterpretation of Roe v Wade that allows for the legal separation of fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses from the mother. “The public debate about personhood and other anti-abortion measures tends to focus narrowly on abortion,” said Jeanne Flavin, Fordham University Professor of Sociology and report co-author. “Our study makes clear that all pregnant women are threatened by such measures.”
The cases citied by the NAPW’s report are shocking: in one, an Oregon woman was committed to a psychiatric ward following her refusal of additional gestational diabetes testing; in another, a D.C. court forced a critically ill woman to undergo a Caesarean section, over her objections. Both baby and mother died.
“It is not just the criminalization of pregnant woman, that almost minimizes the scope of what we are talking about,” said Lynn Paltrow, NAPW executive director and the study’s lead author. “They are using civil statues to keep woman committed. We’re ordering the fetus to be committed and you have to come too.”