Why U.S. pregnancy-related arrests have increased over the past two decades in Southern states

By | September 19, 2023

Arrests of pregnant women are on the rise in the US and the situation only looks set to get worse following the disappearance of Roe v. Wadediscovered a new report.

Between 2006 and June 2022, nearly 1,400 people were arrested or had their bail, sentence or parole conditions increased because of alleged crimes during pregnancy, Pregnancy Justice, an advocacy group, found in a report released Tuesday. fair.

During this period, there was a threefold increase in pregnancy-related criminal cases.

“Pregnant people are, simply by virtue of being pregnant, vulnerable to criminal charges: child abuse or endangerment if they are accused of exposing their fetus to some risk of perceived or real harm; or murder, feticide or manslaughter if they suffer a pregnancy loss,” Lourdes Rivera, the group’s president, wrote in the report. “Now, without the protections of Roe, we can expect the criminalization of pregnancy to continue to increase.”

The cases were concentrated in Southern states like Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Mississippi, where lawmakers adopted calls from the “fetal personhood” movement to increase penalties against pregnant people on the grounds that eggs, embryos and fetuses fertilized people have the same legal rights as children.

The investigation highlights how some women are sent to prison even in cases where it is not clear whether they harmed the fetus, and others were incarcerated during pregnancy, apparently in the name of their future children.

In 2020, for example, an Oklahoma woman was arrested at age 19 following a pre-viability miscarriage after allegedly using methamphetamine and charged with involuntary manslaughter even though a medical examiner identified other possible risk factors in the pregnancy.

Protesters at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision in June 2022

(Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Meanwhile, in 2018, a pregnant Michigan woman was incarcerated during her pregnancy after relapsing with cocaine and methamphetamine during a drug court program.

Highlighting the gap between criminal sanctions and outcomes on the ground, although nine out of 10 cases analyzed by Pregnancy Justice involved substance use, the report concluded that in two-thirds of the live births studied, there was no mention of negative outcomes. for the health of children themselves.

Another important trend identified in the data was poverty. In nearly 85 percent of the cases studied, courts declared the person at the center legally indigent, meaning they could not afford a lawyer.

Advocates argue that the findings underscore the need to move away from health care strategies toward comprehensive health treatment and other methods to protect pregnant people and their unborn children.

“The findings of this report are a call to action, and anyone working to achieve greater bodily autonomy should heed that call,” said Raye Simpson of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective in a press release following the publication of the report. “We must challenge the systems that conspire to criminalize pregnant people, ensure that neither poverty, gender nor race are criminalized, and ensure that everyone can get the care they need and live full, prosperous lives without fear, stigma or punishment.”

As The Independent reported, pregnant people and mothers face specific types of stigma and harsh punishments in the criminal justice system, especially in death penalty cases.

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