In addition to restricting reproductive health care access, anti-choice legislation has been increasingly used to deny pregnant women of their rights including the right to physical liberty, according to a new study released in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law on Tuesday. The study “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health” also considers what implications so-called “personhood” legislation would have for pregnant women.

The study comprehensively looks at 413 cases of arrests, detentions and other challenges to the physical liberties of women from when Roe v Wade was decided in 1973 to 2005. The authors of the study, Lynn M Platrow and Jeanne Flavin, found that in most cases, anti-choice legislation was used to incarcerate pregnant women and forcibly prevent them from obtaining certain medical services or undergo involuntary medical care. Such cases included women who were refused certain gestational tests, had miscarried or had a stillbirth, and women who were in drug treatment programs during their pregnancy. The authors of the study have also identified over 250 similar incidents since they concluded their study in 2005.

Platrow and Flavin came to the conclusion that “if passed, so called ‘personhood’ measures would: 1) provide the basis for arresting pregnant women who have abortions; and 2) provide state actors with the authority to subject all pregnant women to surveillance, arrest, incarceration, and other deprivations of liberty whether women seek to end a pregnancy or not.”

“Furthermore,” they continue, “the study demonstrates that there is no way to add fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses to state constitutions or to the United States Constitution without removing all pregnant women from the community of constitutional persons. These measures create a ‘Jane Crow’ system of law, establishing a separate and unequal status for all pregnant women and disproportionately punishing African-American and low-income women.”

Personhood legislation has been rejected nationwide by voters and courts alike. Despite repeated defeats, Congressman Paul Ryan recently co-sponsored the “Sanctity of Human Life Act” which would grant full personhood rights to any “one-celled human embryo.”

Media Resources: “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health” 1/15/2013; RH Reality Check 1/14/2013; Feminist Newswire 5/7/2012, 11/9/2011

Belly of pregnant woman from shutterstock

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