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Study: Pregnant Women in U.S. Denied Civil Rights Based on Pregnancy

In a new study, to be published on Tuesday in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), researchers found that hundreds of women have been arrested, convicted, jailed, detained in mental institutions and forced to undergo medical procedures against their will because they were pregnant, reports The Guardian.

The report includes 413 criminal and civil cases across 44 states between 1973 and 2005, in which women were denied basic human rights, equal protection and due process of law “based solely on their pregnancy status.”

The study found that pregnant women were arrested and detained if they ended a pregnancy or expressed an intention to end a pregnancy (which is legal under Roe v. Wade), but also after suffering a miscarriage.

The study states that a judge in Ohio kept a woman imprisoned to prevent her from having an abortion, an Oregon woman who refused a doctor’s recommendation for additional testing for gestational diabetes was held in a locked psychiatric ward, and a critically ill woman was ordered by a court in Washington D.C. to have a caesarian section. Neither she nor the baby survived.

Lynn Paltrow, executive director of NAPW and lead author of the study, said in a statement: “It is not just the criminalization of pregnant woman, that almost minimizes the scope of what we are talking about. They are using civil statues to keep women committed.”

Paltrow warned that if personhood measures pass in various states, they would create a “Jane Crow system of law in which pregnant women have a second class status.”

The NAPW said the 413 cases represents a “substantial undercount” and the denial of fundamental rights of pregnant women is ongoing today.

Jeanne Flavin, Fordham University professor of sociology and co-author of the report, said: “The public debate about personhood and other anti-abortion measures tends to focus narrowly on abortion. Our study makes clear that all pregnant woman are threatened by such measures.”


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