Criminalization of pregnancy has already been happening to the poor and women of color

August 3, 2022 ☼ poccrackracism

Source: MPR News (Link)

Source: MPR News

The criminalization of pregnancy is already here

The patients were deemed suspicious, or they had not received good prenatal care, some had unexplained preterm labor, others a history of alcohol or drug abuse.

These were the pregnant women that the Medical University of South Carolina, in cooperation with police and the local prosecutor, drug tested without their knowledge in 1989.

“They set up a dragnet,” says Michelle Goodwin, a law professor at the University of California Irvine and the author of the book Policing The Womb. Over a period of five years, a total of 30 women were arrested for child abuse.

A few brushstroke details from the lawsuit that would follow: One woman spent the last three weeks of her pregnancy in jail, another was arrested moments after she had given birth, handcuffed while she was still bleeding, wearing only a hospital gown.

“Every one of the arrests were all Black women with the exception of one patient,” says Goodwin. “And on her medical chart, the nurse who was in charge wrote ‘lives with Negro boyfriend.’”

This was during the rapid growth of the war on drugs, which contributed to mass incarceration and reified racist myths like welfare queens and crack babies.

The shaming of Black women for supposedly creating a generation of crack babies seeped from public discourse into public policy, Goodwin says. It didn’t matter that the concept of the “crack baby” was a racist, fictionalized invention.

“Black women who suffered from stillbirths, Black women who had alerted their doctors that they suffered through addiction were being policed, were being stigmatized and ultimately were being arrested,” Goodwin says. “Whether they had healthy births or whether they had a miscarriage.”

The fact that Black women were targeted has nothing to do with their behavior, Goodwin says. “We have to dispel this notion that the type of policing that was taking place was a result of Black and brown women just being more criminal, more negligent, just simply bad mothers.”

“There’s absolutely no data that establishes that Black women were any different than white women in conduct during their pregnancy,” she says.

What was different was who was deemed suspect, often by medical staff. In the 80’s and 90’s, Goodwin says, “a Black woman was 10 times more likely to be reported to police and social services on matters related to her pregnancy than were white women.”

This kind of disproportionate targeting of women of color continues to this day, and stretches back far into the past.