Pregnancy can certainly be scary. Even for those of us fortunate to have access to good medical care, pregnancy still presents a risk of serious health complications and death. For women in abusive relationships, abuse frequently escalates with the discovery of a pregnancy, and homicide is now one of the leading causes of death for pregnant women in the United States. And increasingly, pregnant women are being denied their Constitutional rights.
In the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law, Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin document arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women in the U.S. from 1973-2005. They summarize their findings for RH Reality Check:
Our study identified 413 criminal and civil cases involving the arrests, detentions, and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s physical liberty that occurred between 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided) and 2005. Because many cases are not reported publicly, we know that this is a substantial under count. Furthermore, new data collection indicates that at least 250 such interventions have taken place since 2005.
In almost all of the cases we identified, the arrests and other actions would not have happened but for the fact that the woman was pregnant at the time of the alleged violation of law. And, in almost every case we identified, the person who initiated the action had no direct legal authority for doing so. No state legislature has passed a law that holds women legally liable for the outcome of their pregnancies. No state legislature has passed a law making it a crime for a pregnant woman to continue her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug or alcohol problem. No state has passed a law exempting pregnant women from the protections of the state and federal constitution. And, under Roe v. Wade, abortion remains legal.
Yet, since 1973, many states have passed feticide measures and laws restricting access to safe abortion care that, like so-called “personhood” measures, encourage state actors to treat eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are legally separate from the pregnant woman. We found that these laws have been used as the basis for a disturbing range of punitive state actions in every region of the country and against women of every race, though disproportionately against women in the South, low-income women and African-American women.
I strongly recommend reading the whole article, and the study, if you have time. The fact that pregnant women are ignored in favor of the fetuses they’re carrying in their own bodies is extremely disturbing. Why is the response to a pregnant woman seeking help for a drug addiction to put her in jail or a psychiatric facility and appoint a guardian ad litem for the fetus that she is carrying in her own body? How can a third party be the guardian to something residing in someone else’s body? And in many of these cases, these women (and the fetuses they were carrying in their own bodies) weren’t even provided with care that would help ensure that said fetus was delivered as a healthy baby. If the state is so concerned about the health of the fetus, then maybe they should do something productive to help the person who is feeding and housing the fetus with her own body. It is not possible to treat the health of the fetus without treating the health of the woman carrying it.
People, when something happens to a fetus, it also happens to the woman in which it resides. There was a case a few years ago of a teenage girl who hired a man to beat her up in an unsuccessful attempt to cause a miscarriage of her 7 month old fetus. The girl was charged with a second-degree felony count of criminal solicitation to commit murder, and the man was sent to jail for attempted murder. Politicians moved to allow prosecutors to charge a woman who seeks an illegal abortion (i.e. not from a legal abortion provider) with criminal homicide.
Really? Really? You hear of a teenage girl who paid a man to beat her up–paid a man to beat her up, because remember, the beating happened to her own body–and your response is to make that illegal? Why is your response anything other than, “Get that girl some support!” I mean, how desperate do you have to be to pay someone to beat you up, in an attempt to induce a miscarriage at 7 months? Have a little compassion! (Evidently, her boyfriend threatened to break up with her if she didn’t end the pregnancy, bringing us back to pregnancy and abusive relationships.) The case is now before the Utah Supreme Court, and the argument seems to hinge on whether or not abortion by assault is a valid form of abortion. I have no idea why this isn’t being treated as a normal assault case, because someone was assaulted–the teenage girl, who ended up giving birth to a healthy baby, which was apparently unaffected by the beating. I have no idea if, under Utah law, the fact that she paid someone to deliver the beating has a real bearing on anything, but in any case she was a minor, so…I’m going to say that it doesn’t.
I want to end with a quote from Paltrow’s and Flavin’s report:
The hundreds of cases this study documents raise numerous concerns about the health and dignity afforded to pregnant women in the United States. Pregnancy and childbirth continue to carry significant life and health risks (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] 2000,2008; Amnesty International 2010; Save the Children 2010; Raymond and Grimes 2012). In many of the cases, women experienced those risks (often voluntarily undergoing cesarean surgery to bring forth life) only to find that doing so provided the basis for being charged with a crime. Some affidavits in support of the arrest describe giving birth as part of the alleged crime. For example, one affidavit explained that the woman “did willfully and unlawfully give birth to a male infant.”108
How can you willfully and unlawfully give birth?!
And yes, more respect, please. Women are real people, not just soulless baby incubators.