Arrests of and forced interventions on pregnant women in the United States (1973-2005): The implications for women’s legal status and public health

by Paltrow & Flavin


National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s one-of-a-kind study identifies hundreds of criminal and civil cases involving the arrests, detentions and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s physical liberty that occurred between 1973 and 2005, after the decision in Roe v. Wade was issued.  In each of the 413 cases, pregnancy was a necessary element and the consequences included:  arrests; incarceration; increases in prison or jail sentences; detentions in hospitals, mental institutions and drug treatment programs; and forced medical interventions, including surgery.  Data showed that state authorities have used post-Roe measures including feticide laws and anti-abortion laws recognizing separate rights for fertilized, eggs, embryos and fetuses as the basis for depriving pregnant women – whether they were seeking to end a pregnancy or go to term – of  their physical liberty.  The findings make clear that if so called “personhood” measures are enacted, not only will more women who have abortions be arrested, such measures would create the legal basis for depriving all pregnant women of their status as full persons under the law.


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