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Pregnancy Criminalization in the U.S.

October 4, 2023

According to a recent report by Pregnancy Justice, there were 1,396 cases of pregnancy criminalization in the United States between January 2006 and June 2022. Pregnancy criminalization is defined as instances where someone is “arrested for reasons related to their pregnancy, or where the terms of their bail, sentencing, or probation are heightened because they became pregnant after being charged”. Of these 1,396 people whose pregnancy outcomes were criminalized, 85 percent were low-income, and 18.2 percent were Black.

If you suspect this horrifying data relates to anti-abortion rhetoric and laws, you’re correct. Meg O’Connor explains that one of the most frequent accusations against these 1,396 people include obtaining a legally unauthorized abortion.

However, the effects of criminalization reach far beyond abortion. As Pregnancy Justice’s report details, the rise in so-called “fetal personhood laws” tracks closely with this heightened criminalization of pregnancy. Fetal personhood laws confer the same rights people have upon fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. Indeed, nearly 77 percent of cases of all pregnancy-related arrests (over 1,000 cases) occurred in five southern states with fetal personhood laws: Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.

We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation join Pregnancy Justice in asserting that nobody should
“fear arrest or government control because of pregnancy or any pregnancy outcome.” We wholeheartedly endorse Pregnancy Justice’s recommendations to combat criminalization by promoting pregnant people’s personhood, restoring and protecting abortion rights, and ensuring that criminalized pregnant people have a robust defense to combat criminalization.

photo of protesters

a group of protesters stand with signs about abortion ((Manny Becerra))

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