March 28, 2016

Cornell’s Vox Combats ‘Criminalization of Pregnancy’

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Students gathered to discuss the criminalization of pregnancy and statewide restrictions on the civil liberties of pregnant women as a part of Voices of Planned Parenthood’s week-long campaign to spread awareness of Reproductive Justice Behind Bars campaign last week.

Discussion at the event focused on the intersection of women’s rights — including not only of cis-women, but anyone with a female reproductive system — and the law in endangering a fetus through the use of alcohol and drugs.

Several Vox presenters said that they believe the case for reproductive justice should be based on the both the rights of pregnant women and the societal impacts of imprisonment.

“Reproductive justice is intersectional and looks at all the things that bring people to the prison system” said Zoe Maisel ’18. “While most people generally disagree with drug use during pregnancy, criminalization creates a Jane Crow system of law that denies women basic human rights based solely on pregnancy status.”

The presenters were critical of a number of different ways they said U.S. lawmakers have criminalized pregnant women’s actions during pregnancy. They said they believe that while a pregnant woman’s choice to use drugs or alcohol may harm a fetus, criminalization is a dangerous way to address this threat, and ultimately denies women their rights.

“The fact is 5 percent of pregnant women use drugs,” said Maisel. “Drug use is a serious thing that happens in the United States, but throwing women in jail is not the way to properly address this issue of addiction.”

Maisel also described various scenarios which could lead to the imprisonment of a pregnant woman if she is suspected of drug use.

“A woman can be detained against her will for the duration of her pregnancy for using drugs,” she said. “Do women have value beyond their child-bearing capacity? Do our laws reflect that?”

The Vox presenters expressed concern that child endangerment laws meant to protect children from the abuses of negligent parents have been redefined to also denote personhood to unborn children.

“If laws against child abuse are applied to unborn fetuses we have a different system of reproductive justice in this country,” Maisel said. “Pregnant women have been arrested and detained not only if they ended a pregnancy or expressed an interest to end a pregnancy but also after suffering unintentional pregnancy loss.”

Generally, the presenters said they believe the courts have struggled with ambiguity in clarifying women’s reproductive rights.

“Courts have left it unclear where the end of a fetus’ rights and the rights of the mother begin,” Maisel said.

At the end of her presentation, Maisel expressed concern with the increased prevalence of targeted regulation of abortion providers through Trap Laws — such as the law passed in Texas in 2013 — which she said applies unnecessary regulations to doctors performing abortions.
“This issue is that it will result in only seven to eight abortion providers in Texas clustered in East Texas,” she said. “Abortion services won’t be available to people for hundred of miles.”