Do Pregnant Women Have Fewer Rights?

In March, a Florida judge forced a pregnant woman to stay on bed rest and undergo all medical treatments deemed necessary to save her fetus, virtually imprisoning her at a hospital. In June, a federal judge in Maine sentenced a pregnant woman living with HIV to spend the duration of her pregnancy in jail solely because she was HIV-positive and pregnant (her sentence was later vacated). And just last week, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a case where local probation officers admitted they threw a probationer who failed a drug test into jail because she was pregnant; if she had not been pregnant they would have taken less drastic measures.

In a blog post on Double X, Beth Schwartzapfel does a great job of discussing this unlawful and discriminatory treatment of pregnant women. She writes:

One reason these cases keep coming up, despite their clear illegality, is simple paternalism -- overzealous prosecutors and judges think they know what’s best for a healthy pregnancy, as if that’s separate from what’s good for the pregnant woman. This is particularly troubling when judges assume that the woman must be confined or coerced in order to take good care of her child. . . . And the effect of prosecuting pregnant women who use drugs may be to deter other women with addictions from going to doctors’ offices and social service agencies -- precisely the places they need to be. If going to the emergency room might get you arrested, would you go?

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