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Our Bodies, Our Crimes

Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Womens Reproduction in America

Jeanne Flavin
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Our Bodies, Our Crimes
    Book Description:

    The intense policing of women's reproductive capacity places women's health and human rights in great peril. Poor women are pressured to undergo sterilization. Women addicted to illicit drugs risk arrest for carrying their pregnancies to term. Courts, child welfare, and law enforcement agencies fail to recognize the efforts of battered and incarcerated women to care for their children. Pregnant inmates are subject to inhumane practices such as shackling during labor and poor prenatal care. And decades after Roe, the criminalization of certain procedures and regulation of abortion providers still obstruct women's access to safe and private abortions.In this important work, Jeanne Flavin looks beyond abortion to document how the law and the criminal justice system police women's rights to conceive, to be pregnant, and to raise their children. Through vivid and disturbing case studies, Flavin shows how the state seeks to establish what a "good woman" and "fit mother" should look like and whose reproduction is valued. With a stirring conclusion that calls for broad-based measures that strengthen women's economic position , choice-making, autonomy, sexual freedom, and health care, Our Bodies, Our Crimes is a battle cry for all women in their fight to be fully recognized as human beings. At its heart, this book is about the right of a woman to be a healthy and valued member of society independent of how or whether she reproduces.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2855-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Like many people, I was slow to recognize reproductive rights as such. When I was about 8 years old, I sat down at the kitchen table in my working-class home in rural Kansas and wrote a letter to my state senator, Bob Dole, urging him to oppose abortion because it involved killing an unborn baby. I wrote with the moral certainty that a lot of children have at that age, supported by loving and devout Catholic parents and catechism teachers who reminded me at regular intervals that “Abortion is murder” and “Women who don’t take responsibility for their mistakes are...

  4. PART I Beginning

    • 1 “Race Criminals”: Reproductive Rights in America
      (pp. 11-26)

      To illustrate more than 200 years of reproductive rights history in the United States, one might imagine drawing a line that begins when abortion was a widely deplored crime. Our line would then move steadily up and on to the 1960s when women’s sexual liberation gained more attention and helped abortion become more widely accepted. Naturally, our line would culminate in the progressive present when abortion is legal and our laws and policies reflect widespread acceptance and respect for all women’s reproductive rights.

      One might imagine such a line, but one would be very, very wrong. This book focuses mainly...

  5. PART II Begetting

    • 2 “Breeders”: The Right to Procreate
      (pp. 29-50)

      In 2004, Monroe County (NY) Family Court Judge Marilyn O’Connor singled out a woman, Stephanie Pendleton, for having “neglected her responsibilities as a mother” by using cocaine while she was pregnant.¹ At the trial, a representative of Monroe County Department of Health and Human Services presented a permanency plan for reuniting the youngest child, Bobbijean, with her parents. Judge O’Connor, however, modified this plan and ordered that Stephanie was no longer legally allowed to get pregnant and Rodney was no longer legally allowed to father any more children until they had “obtained custody and care of Bobbijean P. and every...

    • 3 “Back-Alley Butchers”: Terminating Pregnancies
      (pp. 51-73)

      On January 28, 2000, Barbara Gaddy was admitted to a New York county jail on drug charges; she was about eight weeks pregnant.² Barbara wanted to terminate her pregnancy. For four weeks, county jail officials refused her request for an abortion and repeatedly harassed and threatened her.³ Barbara was finally able to schedule an abortion for March 2nd. In the meantime, anti-abortion activist Karen Jackson filed a lawsuit asking the court to block Barbara from having an abortion because taxpayers should not have to pay for an elective medical procedure. A New York State Supreme Court justice barred Barbara from...

    • 4 “Baby-Killers”: Neonaticide and Infant Abandonment
      (pp. 74-92)

      Of the 4 million women who give birth each year in the United States, a tiny fraction of a percent will abandon or kill their newborns. Though probably only a couple hundred in number, these cases are disturbing for a host of reasons. Many represent everything that is wrong with reproductive policy in the United States. A young woman becomes pregnant without meaning to. She experiences a pregnancy that nobody acknowledges, much less supports, and that she herself denies exists. She is terrified that others will notice her pregnancy, rather than being hopeful or proud. She gives birth without any...

  6. PART III Bearing

    • 5 “Innocent Preborn Victims”: Fetal Protectionism and Pregnant Women
      (pp. 95-118)

      In 2004, Oklahoma woman Theresa Lee Hernandez delivered a stillborn son at 32 weeks gestation who tested positive for methamphetamine. The Oklahoma prosecutor charged Theresa with first-degree murder, and she was incarcerated for three years before being convicted of second-degree murder in October 2007 and sentenced to 15 years incarceration.¹ In 2006, in the neighboring state of Kansas, Chelsea Brooks was 14 years old and nine months pregnant with a baby girl, Alexa, when she was murdered.² Police believe her abusive 20-year-old former boyfriend hired someone to kill her. Her family’s outrage that the state could not file homicide charges...

    • 6 “Liars and Whiners”: Incarcerated Women’s Right to Reproductive Health
      (pp. 119-136)

      Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers mirror the failure of social policies in the free world. Some of the most socially vulnerable and marginalized members of society are held behind bars, completely dependent on the institution to provide them with the basic necessities for life. If, to borrow from Dostoevsky, the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by the health care provided in its prisons, then the civilization of U.S. society has a long way to go, indeed.

      Take, for instance, California, the second largest correctional system in the country. California’s corrections system holds 1 in...

  7. PART IV Mothering

    • 7 “Bad Mothers”: Incarcerated Women’s Ties to Their Children
      (pp. 139-163)

      Most of the nation’s 200,000 incarcerated women are mothers of children who are under the age of 18. Prior to being incarcerated, most women lived with their children.¹ During incarceration, most children of incarcerated women live with a female relative.² Over one-half of the mothers incarcerated in state prisons report never having a visit from their young children, and fewer than one in four report a monthly visit.³ Nearly all of the women will be released eventually and intend to be reunited with their children.⁴ Upon release, women will struggle to find good jobs and a reliable source of income.⁵...

    • 8 “Asking for It”: Battered Women and Child Custody
      (pp. 164-181)

      In 1999, Jessica Gonzales obtained a restraining order against her estranged husband, Simon, who had a history of abusive and erratic behavior. The order barred him from contact with her and their three young daughters, ages 7, 9, and 10, and stipulated that the police were to arrest Simon if he violated the order. A month later, Simon took the girls without permission. Jessica called the police at 7:30 p.m. who told her to call back at 10 p.m. if the girls had not returned. An hour later, Jessica called the police again and told them that she had spoken...

  8. Conclusion: Being
    (pp. 182-190)

    The impact of the state’s policing of reproduction affects every woman, including women who will never see the inside of a patrol car, courtroom, or cell. But the failure to ensure reproductive justice lands hardest on the most vulnerable members of society.

    This book is not only about misguided policies like, as I have argued, fetal homicide laws, parental notification statutes, no-procreation orders, and the time-driven and involuntary termination of parental rights. This book is also about regulating women’s social citizenship and understanding how citizens are formed, valued, and, ultimately, judged. I have tried to show how respect for a...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 191-262)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-296)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 297-298)
  12. Index
    (pp. 299-306)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 307-307)