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‘Policing pregnancy’


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In the United States, pregnant women have come under a nearly microscopic public ‘lens’ regarding their behavior during pregnancy. Pregnant women are increasingly cast as a form of ‘public property’ with women warned against hundreds of risks, from eating deli meats, Camembert cheese and alfalfa sprouts to the ubiquitous stern warnings about smoking and alcohol use. In its most extreme form, the policing of pregnancy has led to the criminal prosecution of women for in utero ‘child neglect, abuse or endangerment’, delivering drugs to a ‘minor’ or even, as in one case, convicted of homicide for a stillbirth that the court claimed was the result of drug use during pregnancy (with a prison sentence of 12 years).

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‘Policing pregnancy’

  1. 1. Policing Pregnancy Cynthia R. Daniels Professor and Chair Political Science Department Rutgers University New Brunswick, N.J. [email_address]
  2. 2. Policing Pregnancy <ul><li>I. Public Pregnancy (Warnings) </li></ul><ul><li>II. Policing Pregnancy (Prosecutions) </li></ul><ul><li>III. Invisible Fathers (Paternal-Fetal Harm) </li></ul>
  3. 6. Pregnancy Warnings <ul><li>Swordfish, mackerel </li></ul><ul><li>Game fish, trout…. </li></ul><ul><li>Shellfish </li></ul><ul><li>Deli meats (turkey, ham, salami, etc) </li></ul><ul><li>Hot dogs, smoked seafood, pates </li></ul><ul><li>Brie, Camembert, feta </li></ul><ul><li>Spouts </li></ul><ul><li>Herbal supplements or Herbal teas </li></ul>
  4. 9. Native American Babies
  5. 10. Mandatory Warning Signs
  6. 11. Number of States
  7. 12. Early pregnancy warnings…Could you be pregnant? Early pregnancy warnings
  8. 16. Few images of fathers…
  9. 18. Smoking and Pregnancy
  10. 20. <ul><li>Federal Occupational Health Standards: </li></ul><ul><li>Lead </li></ul><ul><li>DBCP </li></ul><ul><li>Radiation </li></ul><ul><li>Contagious diseases (HIV) </li></ul><ul><li>Anesthetic Gases </li></ul><ul><li>Ethylene Oxide </li></ul>
  11. 21. Policing Pregnancy: Prosecutions <ul><ul><li>20 states have prosecuted pregnant women </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Over 200 prosecution cases since 1980 for: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Child endangerment </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Drug Delivery to a ‘minor’ </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Child Neglect or Abuse </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Homicide or Feticide </li></ul></ul></ul>
  12. 22. State regulations <ul><li>15 states consider substance abuse to be child abuse </li></ul><ul><li>14 states require report suspected prenatal drug abuse </li></ul><ul><li>4 states require testing for suspected prenatal drug exposure </li></ul><ul><li>3 states allow civil commitment of pregnant women </li></ul>
  13. 23. Pregnancy and Alcohol Reporting
  14. 24. Pregnancy and Alcohol Reporting
  15. 25. Authorizing Civil Commitment
  16. 26. Civil Commitment
  17. 27. Limitations on Criminal Prosecution
  18. 28. Regina McKnight v South Carolina (2003) <ul><li>Suffered a stillbirth in 3rd trimester </li></ul><ul><li>Convicted of ‘homicide by child abuse for drug use (cocaine) during pregnancy </li></ul><ul><li>Sentenced to 12 years in prison </li></ul>
  19. 29. Regina McKnight (May, 2008) Released on appeal after serving 5 years in prison Based on failure to prove causation between drug use and stillbirth; no autopsy
  20. 30. Michelle Geiser Behles v. North Dakota (2008) <ul><li>Convicted of child endangerment after she suffered a stillbirth at 29 weeks </li></ul><ul><li>Accused of overusing prescription medication during her pregnancy. </li></ul><ul><li>State’s attorney general: “a child is defined as an individual who is under the 18 years of age” </li></ul>
  21. 31. Michelle Geiser Behles v. North Dakota <ul><li>Overturned by ND Supreme Court 2009 </li></ul><ul><li>Fetus not a ‘child’ under state law </li></ul><ul><li>Remains in prison on drug possession charges </li></ul>
  22. 32. C-section cases <ul><li>New Jersey v. ‘V.M’ (July 2009) </li></ul><ul><li>-Enters hospital in labor at 35 weeks </li></ul><ul><li>-Refuses to sign preauthorization for c-section “in event of fetal distress” </li></ul><ul><li>-Gives birth to healthy baby </li></ul><ul><li>-Reported to child welfare and loses custody at birth </li></ul><ul><li>-Parents charged with ‘medical neglect’ </li></ul><ul><li>--Neglect charged overturned on appeal, but lost custody </li></ul>
  23. 33. The Invisible Man <ul><li>Presumed exclusive responsibility of pregnant women for fetal health/harm </li></ul><ul><li>Assumption of men’s distance from fetal health/harm </li></ul><ul><li>Assumption of male invulnerability to reproductive harm </li></ul>
  24. 35. Paternal-Fetal Harm <ul><li>Occupational/Environmental </li></ul><ul><li>Alcohol/Smoking </li></ul><ul><li>Illicit Drugs </li></ul><ul><li>Paternal Age </li></ul>
  25. 36. Male-mediated exposures <ul><li>Occupational: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lead </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>DBCP </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Research by occupation </li></ul></ul>
  26. 37. Seveso, Italy (1976)
  27. 38. Male-mediated exposures <ul><li>Drugs: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Illicit drugs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Opiates </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Chemotherapeutic Drugs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>cyclophosphamide </li></ul></ul></ul>
  28. 39. Male-mediated exposures <ul><li>“ Lifestyle” factors: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Alcohol </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Nicotine </li></ul></ul>
  29. 40. Male-mediated exposures <ul><li>Wartime exposures: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Vietnam vets and Agent Orange (herbicide) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(12 million barrels sprayed in Vietnam) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Spina bifida in children exposed soldiers father </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1996: Clinton extends benefits to children </li></ul></ul>
  30. 42. Male-mediated exposures <ul><li>Paternal Age </li></ul><ul><li>--increased rates of mutational errors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Risk of schizo 2x for fathers 45-49, 3x for fathers 50 years or older </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Risk of autism 6x for fathers age 40+ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(compared to men under 30) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Autism rates 4:1 male to female ratio </li></ul></ul></ul>
  31. 44. From Pregnant Woman To Reproductive Parents <ul><li>Regulatory standards must address male reproductive harm and male-mediated fetal harm </li></ul><ul><li>Funding for research must address male risk factors </li></ul><ul><li>Change how we think about reproductive differences between men and women to recognize male reproductive risks. </li></ul>