244680 Orphans in utero: Expansions of the child protective regime into the womb through fetal separatist policies

Monday, October 31, 2011: 8:30 AM

Farah Diaz-Tello, JD , National Advocates for Pregnant Women, New York, NY
In recent years, more states have seen attempts to introduce measures that legally sever the bonds between a pregnant woman and the fetus she carries. Treating fetuses as though they were not inside a woman's body has served to perpetuate the idea that fetuses are in need of “protection” from the women who carry, sustain, nurture and birth them. It also has the consequence of undermining the rights of birthing women by inviting child protective authorities to respond to perceived risks to fetuses in the same way they address perceived risks to children: through disruptive investigations and punitive interventions in which mother and child are cast as adversaries. As a result, law guardians have been appointed for fetuses, and women have been charged with both civil and criminal abuse and neglect based on decisions about their prenatal care, including location of birth, exercise of right to informed refusal of medical care, and adherence to doctor-prescribed methadone maintenance. Cases from around the country demonstrate that as fetal separatist legislation gains ground, women will increasingly be subject to criminal and especially child welfare interventions based on their pregnancies. This session proposes that the expansion of the child welfare regime to police women's pregnancies is a barrier to birth justice that has a destructive effect, especially on communities of color and low-income women. Furthermore, only when birth choices are respected as legitimate medical decisions will women have full human rights, bodily autonomy, and agency within their families and communities.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
By the end of the session, participants will be able to: (1) Analyze the impact of a punitive child welfare regime on reproductive and birth justice. (2) Distinguish between legal arguments that cast birthing rights as parental decisions versus medical decisions about pregnancy. (3) Explain why viewing birthing rights solely as a subset of parental rights allows greater state policing of birthing choices.

Keywords: Social Justice, Pregnancy

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a practicing attorney specializing in reproductive justice, focusing on the rights of pregnant women. I have researched all reported cases of women punished for medical refusal of interventions between 1973 and the present day, and have assisted in the defense of women charged with medical neglect for their choices about medical care and delivery.
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.