Prison and the war on (pregnant) women

A new study appeared today that describes yet another front on the prison side of the war on women in the United States: pregnancy. 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, reports on 413 cases over four decades in which “a woman’s pregnancy was a necessary factor leading to attempted and actual deprivations of a woman’s physical liberty.” “Deprivation of physical liberty” means forced incarceration. Some women were kept in psychiatric wards against their will; others were kept in jails and prisons against their will. In each case, part of the point of the confinement was that the woman’s will doesn’t matter because, effectively, it doesn’t exist. For the authors of the report, this is part of the war-on-women fetal personhood movement. It’s built on centuries old traditions of `protecting’ women from themselves, and of course protecting children from their mothers.

Now, not all children need protection. 231 cases originated in the South. That’s a whopping 56% in one region. South Carolina is Number 1 with 93 cases. That means almost a quarter of all the cases come from one state, and, to make the map even more glaring, 34 of those 93 cases from two contiguous counties. Florida comes in second with 56. In Florida, 25 of the cases came from one county, 23 of which came from two hospitals: Sacred Heart Hospital and Baptist Hospital. Women `need’ protection.

And who are these women who need protection? 71% of all `protected’ pregnant women were represented by indigent defense. Class was the great unifier in this group. Across the board, an overwhelming majority of the women in each racial/ethnic and age category was low- or no-income.

59% were women of color, of whom 52% were African American. In South Carolina, African Americans made up 30 percent of the state’s population, and made up 74 percent of the caseload. Of course, this mirrors the national numbers, where African American women make up almost 13% of the general population, and 33% of women prisoners. African American women’s rate of incarceration, nationally, is four times that of white women.

60% of the `protected’ pregnant women were 21 – 30 years old.

Women make up the fastest growing prison population in the United States. It’s a key part of the war on women, and as we know, war is not healthy for children “and other living things”.


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About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.