The Criminalization of Pregnancy and Public Policy

Paula Rector, Northern Arizona University
Nancy A. Wonders, Northern Arizona University

Policies aimed at criminalizing women who use drugs while pregnant were developed as a result of the war on drugs. The effects of policies to criminalize pregnant drug users are explored in this paper. These policies were developed and implemented as a means to protect unborn children, however, the outcome has been vastly different. Reseach indicates that policies to criminalize pregnant drug users have resulted in more harm to women and their unborn children than benefit. One impact of mandatory reporting policies is that pregnant drug users are not obtaining the prenatal care they need due to their fear of being arrested. Furthermore, the mandatory reporting policies are often implemented in hospitals and clinics that serve primarily poor minority women. More specifically, the policies are geared toward criminalizing women who are pregnant and use crack. These women are more likely to be poor and Black. These policies are not achieving their intended goals; they are in essence criminalizing "blackness" and "women." In this sense, the criminalization of pregnancy is both racialized and gendered. Our paper outlines these issues and addresses the policy implications of the criminalization of pregnancy for poor Black women. Policy suggestions are provided.

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Updated 05/20/2006