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New Study Shows Anti-Choice Policies Leading to Widespread Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women

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Written by Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the  original post.

Read additional 2013 coverage on the personhood of women here.

The full table of contents for Volume 38, No. 2, of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law can be found here. Articles in this edition will be available for public access for a full month here.

On Tuesday, January 15th, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law will publish our study, " Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women's Legal Status and Public Health." This study makes clear that post- Roe anti-choice and "pro-life" measures are being used to do more than limit access to abortion; they are providing the basis for arresting women, locking them up, and forcing them to submit to medical interventions, including surgery. The cases documented in our study through 2005, as well as more recent cases, make clear that 40 years after Roe v. Wade was decided, far more is at stake than abortion or women's reproductive rights. Pregnant women face attacks on virtually every right associated with constitutional personhood, including the very basic right to physical liberty.  

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.  

Women have been arrested while still pregnant, taken straight from the hospital in handcuffs, and sometimes shackled around the waist and at the ankles. Pregnant women have been held under house arrest and incarcerated in jails and prisons. Pregnant women have been held in locked psychiatric wards, as well as in hospitals and in drug treatment programs under 24-hour guard. They have been forced to undergo intimate medical exams and blood transfusions over their religious objections. Women have been forced to submit to cesarean surgery. They have been arrested shortly after giving birth while dressed only in hospital gowns. And, despite claims by some anti-choice activists that women themselves will not be arrested if abortion is re-criminalized, women who have ended their pregnancies and had abortions are already being arrested.