Online Program

Criminalizing pregnancy

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lynda M Morgan-Moore, Graduate Student, Department of Epidemiology, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME
In 1977 the state of California issued the first indictment against an American woman for the use of drugs while pregnant. Margaret Reyes was charged with two counts of child endangerment for using heroin while pregnant. Since that time “fetal abuse” prosecutions have steadily increased and the allegations have expanded to include charges of child abuse, child endangerment, murder, attempted murder and manslaughter. Of these cases 56 percent have originated in the South, followed by 22 percent in the Midwest, 15 percent in the Pacific and West, and 7 percent in the Northeast. The Unborn Victims Violence Act and the Chemical Endangerment of Child laws have been expanded to include prosecution of women who have refused medical treatment or attempted suicide and subsequently delivered a medically compromised infant. Between 1973 and 2005 59% of the women in 44 states facing prosecution were women of color, and regardless of race, 71% were economically disadvantaged, in addition to possessing minimal education and family histories of violence, drug and sexual abuse. Instead of taking prosecutorial and punitive actions against these vulnerable women we in public health need to become allies with these women and work to advocate for social and economic reforms that will enable pregnant women to make informed choices that are in their and their child's best interest. This can be achieved by increasing awareness of this issue through public forums; informing and instructing healthcare providers and social services agencies; and introducing and supporting legislation that decriminalizes pregnancy.

Learning Areas:

Administer health education strategies, interventions and programs
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines

Learning Objectives:
Identify how laws designed to protect children have been expanded to prosecute pregnant women. Assess the impact of these prosecutions and convictions on prenatal care. Discuss how healthcare providers, public health and legislation can alleviate some of these issues.

Keyword(s): MCH Epidemiology, Health Law

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an epidemiology graduate student, in addition to working in a neonatal intensive care unit where the focus of my practice is providing care and support medically, socially and legally to infants and families affected by neonatal abstinence syndrome. The core of my thesis is designed to call to attention to the disparities and issues faced by pregnant women under prosecution, along with developing and implementing resources and interventions for these families.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.