Policing Pregnant Bodies

Policing Pregnant Bodies

Explores the historical roots of controversies over abortion, fetal personhood, miscarriage, and maternal mortality.

On June 24, 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, asserting that the Constitution did not confer the right to abortion. This ruling, in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health case, was the culmination of a half-century of pro-life activism promoting the idea that fetuses are people and therefore entitled to the rights and protections that the Constitution guarantees. But it was also the product of a much longer history of archaic ideas about the relationship between pregnant people and the fetuses they carry.

In Policing Pregnant Bodies: From Ancient Greece to Post-Roe America, historian Kathleen M. Crowther discusses the deeply rooted medical and philosophical ideas that continue to reverberate in the politics of women's health and reproductive autonomy. From the idea that a detectable heartbeat is a sign of moral personhood to why infant and maternal mortality rates in the United States have risen as abortion restrictions have gained strength, this is a historically informed discussion of the politics of women's reproductive rights.

Crowther explains why pro-life concern for fetuses has led not just to laws restricting or banning abortion but also to delaying or denying treatment to women for miscarriages as well as police investigations of miscarriages. She details the failure to implement policies that would actually improve the quality of infant life, such as guaranteed access to medical care, healthy food, safe housing, and paid maternity leave. We must understand the historical roots of these archaic ideas in order to critically engage with the current legal and political debates involving fetal life.

Publication Date: 
October 31, 2023