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Roberts, Dorothy E. “Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality, and the Right to Privacy.” Harvard Law Review 104, no. 7 (1991): 1–64.


Roberts uses a legal framework to argue that the prosecution of pregnant women who give birth to babies that test positive for drugs violates both equal protection privacy rights found in the federal Constitution. She notes that the majority of women prosecuted are poor women of color. The central theme throughout her article is how pregnant women of color have been mistreated throughout history. She argues that black women have been devalued as mothers, as evidenced by forced childbearing as slaves, sterilization without consent, and the removal of children from their families. She uses these premises to maintain that Black women are not prosecuted solely for their drug addiction, but essentially are punished for their decision to have children. This is a lengthy article written for a legal-minded reader. It gives a detailed overview of the historical oppression of pregnant women of color and how the legal system punishes these women for having children. Roberts seeks to expand the right to privacy doctrine to include not only a pregnant woman of color’s protection from government intrusion, but also a governmental guarantee of her personhood and autonomy.  


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Race/ethnicity: African American/Black   Criminal justice/incarceration   Pregnancy   History