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Paltrow, Lynn, and Jeanne Flavin. “Arrests and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in The United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy & Law, 2013, 1–8.


The article is a legal empirical study of arrests and forced medical interventions on pregnant women in the U.S.. The authors, using varied sources such as research articles and legal, news and health databases, found 413 relevant legal cases between 1973 and 2005 (Paltrow and Flavin believe that the actual number of such cases is much higher, since it is difficult to obtain information regarding legal cases of this kind). In all cases documented, the state took legal action against pregnant women that resulted in forced medical interventions, detentions, arrests, and jail sentences. In all cases, the pregnancy was the key factor motivating the legal proceedings. In a statistical analysis of the cases, the authors found that the majority of the women involved were poor or low-income, and 59% were women of color. In 84% of the cases the women were believed to have used an illegal drug. In many of the cases, the forced interventions and arrests happened even though there was no substantial legal ground for the proceedings. Medical and public health professionals participated in, and even initiated, proceedings depriving the pregnant client's liberty, and by doing so sometimes violated patient confidentiality and ethical standards. The authors note that the state action did not promote fetal, maternal, and child health in the cases documented. Furthermore, they argue such actions deter women from seeking medical treatment and communicating openly with care providers. The authors suggest that the legal theory underlying the cases documented is the “personhood” assumption, the notion that embryos and fetuses should be treated as if they were legally separate from the pregnant woman and entitled to the protection of the Constitution. The authors conclude that their findings confirm that personhood legislation would re-criminalize abortions and deprive pregnant women of their liberty.    


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Government regulation   Criminal justice/incarceration   Pregnancy