In recent months, women’s reproduction has been in the spotlight. A few weeks ago, the Republican Party adopted an anti-abortion platform calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion and making no exception for victims in cases of incest, rape, or to save the woman’s life. Ironically, some of the very same party leaders responsible for drafting the amendment issued demands for the Missouri Congressman, Todd Akin, to resign or step aside in a hotly contested Senate race after he made controversial claims that “legitimate” rapes rarely result in pregnancies.
As the gender war plays out in high profile ways, we should be aware that abortion politics is not the only area in which women’s reproductive rights are closely scrutinized and under threat of political attack. Relatively little attention has focused on the pernicious on-the-ground forms of criminal policing targeted at pregnant women across America.
Since the late 1980s, state legislatures have enacted criminal feticide laws that now ensnare women for a broad range of activities, including falling down steps, suffering drug addiction, refusing cesarean sections, or attempting suicide. For example, in 2010 Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law the “Criminal Homicide and Abortion Revisions Act,” which specifically applies to miscarriages and other fetal harms that result from “knowing acts” committed by women. A prior version of the bill drafted by state legislator Carl Wimmer authorized life imprisonment for pregnant women who engage in reckless behavior during pregnancy that could result in miscarriage and stillbirth. Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, and some other states define child abuse as intentional or neglectful harm to the fetus.