“Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health,” an article by Lynn M. Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law (volume 38, issue 2), offers a groundbreaking, in-depth look at criminal and civil cases in which a woman’s pregnancy was a deciding factor leading to attempted and actual deprivations of her physical liberty.
As “personhood” measures are promoted and the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches, this article broadens the conversation from one about abortion to one about health policy and the legal status of pregnant women.
Paltrow and Flavin identified 413 cases involving arrests, detentions, and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s physical liberty between 1973 and 2005. The authors examine key characteristics of the women and cases (including socioeconomic status and race); identify the legal claims used to support the arrests, detentions, and forced interventions; and explore the role that health care providers played in facilitating deprivations of pregnant women’s liberty.
The data presented in this study challenge the idea that such interventions are rare and isolated events. Analysis reveals how existing laws, including feticide statutes, have been used to justify the arrests of pregnant women; provides evidence of what is likely to occur if personhood measures pass; and highlights the ways in which arrests and forced interventions undermine maternal, fetal, and child health.
Paltrow and Flavin’s unparalleled documentation and analysis of cases offers a basis for building a shared political agenda that advances public health and ensures that pregnant women do not lose their civil and human rights.
Duke University Press