Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women's Legal Status and Public Health

46 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2014  

Lynn Paltrow

National Advocates for Pregnant Women

Jeanne Flavin

Fordham University

Date Written: April 1, 2013

Abstract

In November 2011, the citizens of Mississippi voted down Proposition 26, a “personhood” measure that sought to establish separate constitutional rights for fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. This proposition raised the question of whether such measures could be used as the basis for depriving pregnant women of their liberty through arrests or forced medical interventions. Over the past four decades, descriptions of selected subsets of arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women have been published. Such cases, however, have never been systematically identified and documented, nor has the basis for their deprivations of liberty been comprehensively examined. In this article we report on 413 cases from 1973 to 2005 in which a woman’s pregnancy was a necessary factor leading to attempted and actual deprivations of a woman’s physical liberty. First, we describe key characteristics of the women and the cases, including socioeconomic status and race. Second, we investigate the legal claims made to justify the arrests, detentions, and forced interventions. Third, we explore the role played by health care providers. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings and the likely impact of personhood measures on pregnant women's liberty and on maternal, fetal, and child health.

Note: This article was part of a symposium, "The Policy and Politics of Reproductive Health."

Keywords: pregnant woman, pregnancy, hospital detention, compelled treatment, commitment, incarceration, prosecution, cesarean surgery, fetus, addiction, race, class, poverty, drugs

Suggested Citation

Paltrow, Lynn and Flavin, Jeanne, Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women's Legal Status and Public Health (April 1, 2013). Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 299-343, 2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2530100

Lynn Paltrow

National Advocates for Pregnant Women ( email )

15 West 36th St
Suite 901
New York, NY 10018-7910
United States
212-255-9252 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://advocatesforpregnantwomen.org

Jeanne Flavin (Contact Author)

Fordham University ( email )

113 West 60th Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
(718) 817-3863 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.fordham.edu/academics/programs_at_fordham_/sociology__anthropol/faculty/flavin_9324.asp

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