211508 Pregnant women and pregnancy as part of the reproductive justice movement

Monday, November 9, 2009: 11:24 AM

Lynn Paltrow, JD , National Advocates for Pregnant Women, New York, NY
Persistent efforts to treat pregnant women and pregnancy as a proper subject of the criminal law have significant implications for reproductive justice and women's public health status. While efforts to re-criminalize abortion continue, the impact of state feticide and unborn victims of violence act laws on pregnant women have gone largely unrecognized. Data collection concerning arrests of women in which pregnancy is a necessary element of the “crime” reveal that these laws are providing justification for ongoing efforts to treat certain pregnant and birthing women as criminals. Many of these cases involve women who love their children but are unable to overcome an addiction problem in the short-term of a pregnancy. Cases, however, also include pregnant women who drink alcohol, refuse physician recommendations regarding method of birth, have suffered stillbirths, have been in a dangerous location while pregnant, or who have attempted suicide.

Prosecutions of pregnant women cannot be separated from attempts to re-criminalize abortion. The legal basis for such criminalization as well as the ongoing public relations campaign to characterize abortion as murder and to suggest that women who have abortions are different from those who have babies profoundly affect how all pregnant women, including those going to term, are treated by the criminal justice system. This means that efforts to ensure reproductive justice and improve both maternal and fetal health require attention to these cases. The fact that efforts to re-criminalize abortion necessarily implicate birthing issues creates possibilities for alliances between pro-choice and birthing rights activists.

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe the impact state feticide and Unborn Victims of Violence laws have on women who intend to carry pregnancies to terms; 2. Identify the number of states that have feticide and/or Unborn Victims of Violence laws; 3. List the percentage of women who are already mothers when they have abortions; 4. Discuss why application of criminal laws to pregnant women, including drug using pregnant women, undermines a wide variety of public health goals concerning both maternal and fetal health; 5. Evaluate the impact of anti-abortion legislation and public relations efforts on all pregnant women, including those going to term.

Keywords: Pregnancy, Maternal and Child Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an attorney and the Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. I frequently present, publish, and organize continuing education programs.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.